Five Weeks After Being Sued, DEA Agrees To Return $82,000 It Stole From A Retiree

from the weird-how-that-works dept

Sometimes all it takes is a lawsuit and little bad press to make the federal government at least temporarily regret its thieving ways.

In January, the DEA was sued by Rebecca West and her father Terry Rolin after the agency lifted Rolin’s life savings — more than $82,000 — from West at the Pittsburgh airport. The supposedly travel safety-focused TSA agents saw the cash in West’s carry-on luggage and decided to notify State Troopers and the DEA. After a few extended conversations with West, the DEA decided to seize the money under the theory that a person with this much cash on their person must have obtained it illegally.

The Institute for Justice — which is representing West in her lawsuit — reports the DEA has suddenly and mysteriously decided the money agents took from West was probably honest money after all.

Terry Rolin’s life savings of $82,373 will finally be returned to him, nearly six months after it was wrongfully seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from his daughter Rebecca Brown as she traveled through Pittsburgh International Airport to her home in Boston. Without offering any apology for the harm caused by confiscating Terry’s life savings for six months, the DEA informed the Institute for Justice (IJ) via letter that: “After further review, a decision has been made to return the property.”

This looks like someone further up the org chart saw the bad press and lawsuit generated by this suspicionless seizure and told someone to get the suddenly tainted money the hell out of the DEA’s coffers. The letter [PDF] is 99% formality, explaining nothing about the original seizure. It simply states that if Rolin owes any money to the government, the government will deduct it from the $82,373 the DEA deducted in whole from West’s luggage six months ago.

The DEA could have done this at any point before being served with a lawsuit. Presumably this return of Rolin’s legally-obtained life savings is being done to moot as much of his lawsuit as possible. It’s not going to work. The lawsuit continues, with the Institute for Justice and its clients hoping to secure a win that might force the TSA to focus on travel safety (rather than cash) and the DEA to actually provide suspicion that’s far more reasonable than whatever excuse agents are currently using to steal money from travelers.

“We are glad that Terry will get his money back, but it is shameful that it takes a lawsuit and an international outcry for the federal government to do the right thing,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “We know that this routinely happens to other travelers at airports across the United States. Terry and Rebecca are going to fight on until TSA and DEA end their unconstitutional and unlawful practices of seizing cash from air travelers without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.”

Hey, DEA: if you don’t like being sued, maybe don’t do stuff that will get you sued. I mean, that’s the kind of logic you law enforcement types understand, right? Don’t break the law, etc. Asset forfeiture is hot, unconstitutional garbage. You can’t cripple drug lords by robbing random people of their life savings. But if the DEA actually went about the business of dismantling the drug trade, it might move resources away from its “taking cash from travelers” outreach program. And that would apparently be unacceptable.

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Comments on “Five Weeks After Being Sued, DEA Agrees To Return $82,000 It Stole From A Retiree”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Don't settle for anything less than a million times the amount

If the DEA wants to settle this case, the lawyer should specify that a million times the amount taken and a new policy stating that it is not ok for agents to steal from people with no conviction ever again. Anything less means keep the lawsuit going.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TheResidentSkeptic (profile) says:

There are several ways this can be fixed.

1) A campaign staffer has picked up cash from many contributors and is stopped on the way to the fundraiser and has it all confiscated.
2) An "Influencer" gets their cash taken, posts it for the world to see, and just happens to be the grandchild of a politician
3) A bunch of white DEA agents stop a Black politician and confiscate all their money.

As long as "no one important" is inconvenienced, then it just doesn’t matter or need to be fixed.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Constitutional

Except that what you’re describing is NOT asset forfeiture.

The entire point of asset forfeiture is to take things from people in the hopes that bankrupting them will make it impossible to continue running drugs. Nothing about asset forfeiture cares about where those "assets" originally came from or how connected they might be to the drug crimes they’ve been committing.

Hence, asset forfeiture is ABSOLUTELY in ALL cases unconstitutional garbage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Constitutional

Except that what you’re describing is NOT asset forfeiture.

How do you figure? Money and other property earned from crime would be "assets", and the #1 verb definition for "forfeit" on Wikitionary is "To suffer the loss of something by wrongdoing or non-compliance".

If anything, it’s the people taking things from the innocent that are abusing the definition of "forfeit" (in that no wrongdoing or non-compliance need be alleged).

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Constitutional

No, I meant what I said.
Even if you have some kind of conviction, the idea that because someone did something wrong everything they own is now free for the taking is blatantly unconstitutional. Asset forfeiture is written to allow police to assume everything the person owns must have some connection to drugs without having to actually prove any of it is. This is blatantly against the constitutions restrictions on punishments.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Constitutional

I don’t disagree with that, but if I understand your point correctly, then asset forfeitures for money or things that can be attributed to illegal activities would be OK? That is, provided that that attribution can be proven in a court (beyond a reasonable doubt one presumes). It is not only the failing to charge someone, but the failure to prove the asset is in fact the proceed of something illegal.

That would mean taking the concept of innocent until proven guilty from the realm of only people to include things as well. Again, I don’t disagree, but can the Constitution actually give rights to things?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Constitutional

"provided that that attribution can be proven in a court (beyond a reasonable doubt one presumes)."

Here’s the problem; It’s logically impossible to prove a negative.

So on the question "Can you prove this money wasn’t the result of illegal activity" the answer will *always** be "No".

There’s just no way around it. If you think a crime carries to low a punishment, then change that. Asset forfeiture only tells the cops that here’s a way to punish people without the need for a judge or jury. Or, for that matter, evidence.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Constitutional

The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The police make the accusation, the prosecutors make the case in court. If were going to give things rights, then innocent until proven guilty should be one of them.

Still, in thinking about this I realized that things already have protection because they belong to us.

Amendment 4 – Search and Seizure

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

So maybe Cdaragorn is right, but then if the law enforcement establishment follows the operating instructions properly, they can seize property, following a conviction. But I maintain that in order for the ‘properly part’ they need to show a nexus between the asset and the convicted crime. They should not be able to point and say ‘ummm bad’ and take it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Constitutional

"Maybe you meant asset forfeiture without a felony conviction of the asset owner is unconstitutional."

Not really. Today cops can walk into your home and walk away with all of the cash and jewelry you had in your safe – without anything further than their opinion that you were acting suspiciously.

A "felony conviction" still has them walking away with that money, but now after they mysteriously found a joint or small bag of white powder somewhere on your premises.

They use the money to get brand-news cars, you end up with a felony conviction in addition to getting robbed.

You really think adding a prerequisite is going to stop the obvious larcenous asshats described in articles such as these? It won’t. It’ll ensure they have to screw you further is all.

Robert says:

Travel by Car

Seizing cash found on travellers isn’t just an air travel thing. Police do it to people they pull over for speeding also. If there’s cash in the car they seize it and hold it, and short of a court order, which is usually not forthcoming, they never give it back. Ever. Doesn’t matter if the owner of the cash is never charged with anything. It doesn’t even matter if the cop doesn’t write a ticket, or if the ticket is contested and the driver is found not to be at fault. There doesn’t have to be any REAL probable cause. Seriously, the case law on this point is very clear. They WILL keep your money and there’s nothing you can do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Travel by Car

Seriously, the case law on this point is very clear. They WILL keep your money and there’s nothing you can do.

So, why do government agencies keep giving the stuff back after people lawyer up? Seems to me that there is something we can do: push till they give it back, then keep pushing till we get to the Supreme Court.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

So many Rebecca Wests says:

Is it the fake rape girl, who tried to steal children form a fellah named Gonzalez AFTER SHE BEAT HERSELF UP, AND PHOTOGRAPHED IT?


Fakerape seems to be associated with the name #RebeccaWest,

Or is it this #RebeccaWest,who probably should be ripped off, by anyone who can rip her off:

YEAH, POOR BABY. tTY NOT TO GET TOO CAUGHT UP IN YOUR VARIOUS #fakerape FRAUDS and other hoaxes. I am glad they flagged you.



Please, talk to your wifey, cuz what wimmins says is not always empirically true, even if it favors your pet causes.

Dave P. says:

Theft under another name.

Looking at this from the other side of the pond, I can never understand the legality (or otherwise) of asset forfeiture in the USA, without the situation ever having gone through a court, a crime proved beyond reasonable doubt and a conviction and sentence forthcoming. To me this is straightforward and outright theft. I believe in the UK we have a procedure that allows confiscation of criminals’ assets AFTER they have gone through due process and a conviction, but something fairly fresh here is an Unexplained Wealth order, which also smacks a little of accusations of a pre-determined crime without the proof and apparently allows seizure of assets where their acquisition (allegedly!) can’t be explained but no criminal charges are brought, if I read it correctly. Shades of asset forfeiture in disguise, I think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Basically the TSA employee stole the money.

The TSA has realized a lawsuit would unveil records pertaining to them KNOWING the employee kept the cash for themselves and doing nothing at all, not even an HR interview.

So they’re going to pay the guy his money back, not discipline the employee in case he blurts anything out, and hope this all blows over.

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