DEA, TSA Sued For Stealing 79-Year-Old Man's Life Savings From His Daughter At An Airport

from the take-what-thou-wilt-that-is-the-whole-of-the-law-i-guess dept

The DEA doesn’t really want to stop the flow of drugs into the country. Let’s not kid ourselves. Better yet, let’s not allow the DEA to kid us it’s in the drug enforcement business. It’s in the cash business. It wants to seize cash. It is so cash-focused it hires TSA agents to alert the DEA whenever they see cash in people’s luggage. It also regularly peruses airplane and railway passenger manifests to find targets it feels might be carrying cash.

Forfeiture laws make this easy. They make seizing cash so easy hundreds of law enforcement agencies engage in the same fishing trips for cash, ignoring drugs and seizing money from drivers traveling out of the states they’re supposed to be defending against incoming drugs.

It’s not illegal to travel while carrying large amounts of cash. But it may as well be. The Institute for Justice is representing a 79-year-old man who had his life savings seized by the DEA at an airport — a seizure that has not been followed up with any official accusations (charges, indictments) of wrongdoing.

Terry [Rolin], 79, is a retired railroad engineer born and raised in Pittsburgh. For many years, he followed his parents’ habit of hiding money in the basement of their home. When Terry moved out of his family home and into a smaller apartment, he became uncomfortable with keeping a large amount of cash. Last summer, when his daughter Rebecca was home for a family event, Terry asked her to take the money and open a new joint bank account that he could use to pay for dental work and to fix his truck, among other needs.

Rolin gave his lifetime savings of $82,373 to his daughter. She checked to see if it was illegal to travel with this large amount of cash. She discovered it wasn’t and packed it in her luggage. But a TSA agent spotted the cash and detained her for questioning by Pennsylvania State Troopers. Eventually, she was allowed to leave. But she was stopped by DEA agents when she attempted to board her plane.

Here’s what happened then, taken from Rolin and West’s proposed class action lawsuit [PDF] against the TSA and DEA:

Despite Rebecca’s explanation, and without probable cause, the DEA agent seized Terry’s life savings because it was greater than $5,000 and was thus considered a “suspicious” amount under DEA’s policy or practice regarding the seizure of cash from travelers at airports.

DEA has continued to hold Terry’s life savings since August 26, 2019, and has taken actions to permanently keep the money using civil forfeiture.

Neither Terry nor Rebecca has been arrested for or charged with any crime.

The initial and continued seizure of Terry’s life savings since August 26, 2019, has prevented him from replacing his teeth and repairing his truck, among other expenses.

According to the TSA’s own policies, it should not be scanning people’s luggage for “suspicious” amounts of cash. It is only supposed to be concerned with items that threaten airline security, like explosives and weapons. The suit says TSA agents routinely seize cash in contravention of these policies and do so even when it’s been determined the traveler and their belongings pose no security threat.

Instead agents flag any “large” amount of currency, which appears to be in the area of $10,000 or more. This is likely due to multiple law enforcement agencies falsely claiming large amounts of currency are suspicious, if not illegal. The DEA leans heavily on the TSA to perform this extraneous screening for it.

The DEA’s standards for “suspicion” are even laxer than those unofficially followed by the TSA. According to the lawsuit, the DEA will seize any amount over $5,000 whether or not probable cause exists to perform the seizure. Once the DEA has the money, it will eventually begin forfeiture proceedings. Time is of the essence for those fighting to get their money back, but the DEA is never in any hurry because it’s not its money and it has no immediate need for funds.

We already know the DEA is lousy and focused on easy wins, preferably those that involve forfeited funds. But the TSA is part of the problem. It focuses on cash despite it having no statutory authority to seize people simply because they’re carrying cash. The TSA does not prohibit people from carrying cash and has produced no evidence to back up its apparent belief these people are more dangerous or likely to be engaged in illegal activities as other passengers not carrying cash.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration finding the TSA and DEA’s actions unconstitutional and an injunction forbidding either agency from seizing individuals or their belongings solely on the basis of them carrying cash — something that is not actually illegal. If it is granted class status, this will make it much easier — and much less expensive — for others who have been abused by these federal agencies to demand their money back.

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Comments on “DEA, TSA Sued For Stealing 79-Year-Old Man's Life Savings From His Daughter At An Airport”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

You would think the TSA would trust people who carried large amounts of cash because it’s unlikely that anybody is going to bring a fortune with them when they seek to blow up a plane. The owner of the cash obviously has an incentive to get to their destination.

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David says:

Re: Re:

They cannot recover more than their losses and costs unless there is a criminal penalty involved, and an agency is not criminal, only individuals may be.

Which is another reason "civil asset forfeiture" should not be a thing: it is far too lopsided and its existence alone stops its victims to be made whole on average, so engaging in unwarranted forfeitures is a net win even though some forfeitures may be reversed in court.

NHT says:

Re: Re: Re:

"…an agency is not criminal, only individuals may be"

Too bad this same logic doesn’t apply to corporations. But then again, sound logic is whatever those wealthy enough to have hundreds of shell corps. say it is.

John Oliver devoted entire episodes to this crap 2-3 years ago (maybe more). It causes rage among the impotent masses, but then another story about another equally despicable and Orwellian scam being run on the "imps" redirects their anger before it can galvanize long enough to solve one problem.

I truly believe the inundation of stories about how the average Joe is being screwed is doing more to hamper reform than helping it. And DJT cubed that phenomenon.

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Koby (profile) says:

There oughtta

From the "There Oughtta Be A Law" department…. There ought to be a law that if seized money is returned to the owner, then interest and legal fees are paid, and this money then comes from THE DEPARTMENT’S BUDGET. Switching from a money maker to a money loser has been found to change a lot of people’s behavior.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: There oughtta

There should be a law that money and property cannot be seized

I’d be inclined to put that right into the Constitution, perhaps in the mysterious blank space between Amendments 3 and 5.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: There oughtta

"I’d be inclined to put that right into the Constitution, perhaps in the mysterious blank space between Amendments 3 and 5."

Where’s that "sad but true" button, again?

I think the issue is that there’s an amendment stating that law enforcement can’t just nick stuff willy-nilly, but there’s no actual law which details what willy-nilly might consist of.

Meaning civil forfeiture is constitutional because eyeballing an officer of the law is considered good and valid reason.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: There oughtta

And we could even write a statute that says that using governmental authority to violate rights was illegal, and the perpetrator should be fined and jailed.

We could call it Title 18, Sections 241 & 242 of the US Code.

Unfortunately, all it takes to circumvent all of that is for our courts to declare that taking someone’s property at gunpoint without proving their guilt before or after the fact is neither an unreasonable seizure nor armed robbery, and you’re left where we are right now.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: There oughtta

Better idea: Legal fees and interest are paid by the ones who made and okayed the theft. Let the department foot the bill and the pain is spread out, with no one individual suffering anything of note. Make the pain personal though and suddenly stealing anything they can get their hands on becomes much more risky and comes with an actual consequence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There oughtta

No, there ought to be a law that, if a police officer’s salary is paid, in whole or in part, in funds which are the proceeds of theft, armed robbery, "civil forfeiture" or similar criminal activity on the part of police, that these funds (and anything purchased with those funds) be treated as proceeds of crime – which should be forfeited to the victims of this crime. Armed robbery with a gun and a badge is still armed robbery, so it would only be consistent to handle it accordingly.

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Ted the IT Guy (profile) says:

Travelling with Cash

30 years ago, I would travel fairly regularly with $10,000-$50,000 on my person. I would do this when purchasing large amounts of IT equipment from regional importer/distributors that offered cash discounts. I was always nervous about being carjacked or mugged during these trips; cops never made me nervous because my business was on the level.

These days, with both local cops and various 3-letter agencies all looking to steal cash and other assets, travelling with cash is treated as criminal behavior. If I ever need to travel with a lot of funds, I will probably get a cashier’s check.

That should make sure I end up on a watch list.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

I've said it before and I'll say it again

Dumb criminals go to jail.

Smart criminals get a badge and/or government position before committing their crimes and avoid that possibility.

At this point the only real difference between organized crime and thugs like the ones listed in this story is the former are more honest about it and can but dream of the legal protections the latter enjoy

Anonymous Coward says:

Out of curiosity, i wonder exactly how many different ways the USA government and all the various law enforcement agencies are employing to turn us into citizens who have nothing, no privacy, no freedom, no rights of any sort and obviously, no assets, cash or otherwise. I appreciate that someone travelling internally with a massive amount of cash COULD be up to no good and maybe needs to be watched, just as someone taking frequent trips maybe to Columbia, but to take a persons life savings, just because you can when you’re supposed to be one of the ‘good guys’, someone we’re supposed to look up to, to respect and trust instills nothing but contempt and downright hate! This law is in dire need of changes, as said above. Let’s hope Wyden or similar gets on the case! At least he’d try to do something, unlike a lot of others who are content to keep milking the cow themselves!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Tin-Foil-Hat says:


My parents gave me $5000 cash when I visited them in Canada. I asked my mother to put it on a US funds check because of the potential of being robbed by an agent of the US government. They didn’t believe that it could happen in this bastion of freedom but they ultimately complied.

NHT says:

Re: Re:

Ironically, the US lowered the top domination and muscled other countries with legit currencies into doing the same to make it nearly impossible for criminals to transport huge amounts of cash physically. I say ironic because I bet they wish those huge bills were still around so they could up their seizure takes…or maybe not since the seizures seem to be focused on those too broke too fight back.

NHT says:

Here's another heartening story of CF

Ella Bromell, a 72-year-old woman who had to fight off the forfeiture of her home after drug dealers conducted transactions on her property, despite Ms. Bromell’s multiple attempts to stop them.

How can law enforcement be called anything but evil scum in cases like that? I’d always felt LEOs were disproportionately comprised of the worst elements of our society by simple first-hand experience despite being shielded by the pure luck of being the "right color" & born to money. Now, with their behavior in regards to CFs, I don’t know how anyone besides "thumpers" can not condemn them wholesale.

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