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.