Legal Issues

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
asset forfeiture, dea, jfk, vu do



Nail Salon Owner Sues For Return Of Life Savings Seized By DEA Agents At Airport

from the law-abiding-citizens-don't-carry-cash dept

Here's something you see all too rarely -- not because the government's civil asset forfeiture programs aren't routinely abused -- but because it's a good way to spend lots of money fighting a losing battle.

Vu Do, owner of two nail salons in New York City, is trying to retrieve nearly $44,000 -- his life savings which he had put together over twenty years -- taken from him by the DEA at the JFK airport. The complaint points out that Do has run two legitimate businesses in NYC for several years, and not once has he been arrested or even charged for violations of controlled substances laws.

Nevertheless, the DEA took all of Do's money under the assumption that he's involved in the drug business, despite being more than willing to let him go without even a citation. Do had planned to take his money to California to help his financially-struggling siblings out, but ran into the DEA first.

Then there's this:

The Plaintiff did not know that it was a violation of Federal regulations to carry cash in excess of $5,000 at the time of the seizure.
There's a good reason for not knowing this. There is no federal regulation prohibiting citizens from walking around (or boarding planes) with any amount of cash. Asset forfeiture laws make this practice unwise, but nothing in federal law says Do was forbidden from boarding a plane with his $44,000.

There are reporting requirements for any amount over $10,000 in cash traveling in or out of the country, but nothing says travelers can't go from state-to-state with their own money. They don't even have to report it. They will, obviously, experience more scrutiny from the TSA, but it's not illegal to do what this salon owner did.

So, why is this in here? It could be that Do performed his own research and came to the wrong conclusions. But that doesn't explain why his legal representation didn't point this out to him or remove it from the complaint. My guess is it's either an oversight (by his lawyer) or him just repeating what a TSA/DEA agent told him en route to the seizure of his money.

The DEA can easily bleed Do dry, or at the very least make it a break even scenario. Trying to get the government to return seized property is about as straightforward as engaging in quantum mechanics with a headful of acid. (Or firing a teacher in New York City.) This chart, part of the Heritage Foundation's new PDF discussing the many abuses of civil asset forfeiture, shows exactly how much work -- and how much can go wrong in the process -- it takes to get your stolen property back. (via Reason) [click through for a larger version]


According to this chart, Do has no shot at reclaiming his money. He had a certain amount of time to challenge this seizure (until April 30, according to the DEA's administrative seizure notice) and his June 17 lawsuit falls well outside that time limit. Not being "timely" is pretty much an instant loss.

If so, that's 20 years worth of savings headed towards ensuring the DEA has the funding to keep seizing cash from travelers. Despite its best efforts, an actual drug trafficker will occasionally stumble into the agency's sticky grasp, inadvertently legitimizing the whole crooked program. I can't imagine the DEA looks forward to encounters with actual criminals, seeing as it involves arrests and a whole bunch of additional paperwork. Cash is king. And as long as asset forfeiture programs remain in effect, government agencies will prefer the easy busts of "guilty" money over the more legitimate effort of removing criminals from the streets.






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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 2:00pm

    A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

    And another example of robbery at badge-point, showing once more than only the stupid thieves join gangs or cartels, where they have to worry about laws, while the smart ones go into politics or 'law enforcement', where they don't.

    I'd wonder how scum like them live with themselves, but I'm sure the stolen money and property they grab makes for a great distraction to keep them from realizing that they're even worse than the non-badge toting thugs they pretend to be there to stop.

    At least an 'unofficial' thug doesn't try and claim that he's robbing you blind for your sake, and you can actually fight back against them, unlike here where the entire system is stacked against the victim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:20pm

      Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

      A famous quote often quoted here

      "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval
      of their own conscience."

      C. S. Lewis

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 4:12pm

      Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

      No, the smart ones go into business.

      "A criminal is a person with predatory instincts without sufficient capital to form a corporation."
      -- Howard Scott

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 7:02am

        Re: Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

        Yes, because irrational hatred of corporations aside, only crooks want to be paid for their labor, or to cooperate for mutual profit.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 7:47am

          Re: Re: Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

          Can you name a major corporation that doesn't at least occasionally engage in acts that would be called criminal if you or I did them?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Jul 2015 @ 8:27am

          Re: Re: Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

          If forming a corporation was about being "paid for your labor," no one would have a problem with it. But all too often these days, we see examples of people forming a corporation to be paid for someone else's labor, and it's not at all irrational to realize, and point out, that there's something very wrong with such a system.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          GEMont, 1 Jul 2015 @ 6:37pm

          Re: Re: Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

          Well Bergman, its obvious you're not stupid, so I have to assume that this was either an attempt to muddy the water, or a paid advertisement.

          The purpose of forming a corporation has nothing at all to do with being paid for your labor.

          A corporation is formed so that when the board of directors is caught breaking the law, the board of directors do not have to go to jail, or personally pay any fines out-of-pocket.

          The Corporation - a "legally incorporated entity, or non-person person" - goes to trial instead, while the BoD goes about its business as usual.

          Since you cannot jail a "legally incorporated entity", a fine is levied unto the entity by the courts instead, if the non-person person is found to be guilty.

          In simpler terms, its a legal method of skirting the laws that are suppose to prevent criminal business practices, so that those who actually plan and perpetrate the crimes need not suffer the normal incarceration penalty, or suffer any subsequent detrimental affects from punishments incurred by law.

          Instead, a corporation simply pays the courts a small percentage of the profits made from the crime, for the privilege of breaking the law, and carries on as if nothing happened at all.

          In fact, a deal is often struck between corporations and the courts, wherein, the corporation pays an undisclosed sum of money, and the courts keep their judgement of guilt or innocence a secret from the public, eliminating even the minimal punishment of public shame.

          But nice try eh. :)

          ---

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 2:55pm

    This is just the DEA's version of the FBI's Terrorist Creation Program™.

    Poke citizens enough to make them want to fight back and then cry foul, take them down and gloat about your success to the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 5:09pm

      Re:

      I'm not sure we have the complete story. I believe these citizens have been marked as frauds. --and perhaps, they are. the gov should charge with a crime or give it back though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    radix (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:10pm

    Keep appealing

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated

    nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


    These stories always get me more fired up than any other. It's black and white. Totally illegal; a violation of multiple Constitutional rights, and the laws are still being abused.
    Have asset "forfeiture" (theft) laws ever been tested at SCOTUS? I can't even imagine the justification for saying this is OK.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jake, 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:28pm

    I do have one question, though. Why the hell didn't he just send some cash by Western Union? Quite apart from the fact that any competent law-enforcement agency would have some rather pointed questions if they had cause to search his bag, he'd have looked a prize tool if he'd run into a stick-up artist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nate (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:33pm

      Re:

      "if he'd run into a stick-up artist"

      But I thought that was what happened?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:40pm

      Re:

      Some people don't know any better. But remember, by government logic, it was the money's fault, not his fault. It should have known better then to travel with a person.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:42pm

      Re:

      Western Union limits how much can be sent (looks like $5000) - and the fees are a bit ridiculous too.

      Also - clearly this guy didn't have the money in a bank account, otherwise he could have just withdrawn it from a local bank branch after arriving at his destination (assuming it was a major national bank)...

      Who knows what the circumstances are - it doesn't matter.

      It's still frightening as hell that the U.S. government can just take your legally-acquired property as they see fit without actually convicting you of a crime.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 9:06pm

        Re: Re:

        without actually charging you with a crime.


        FTFY

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2015 @ 6:43am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No... charging means nothing - they can charge people with crimes all day long, and then drop the charges before any trial occurs.

          Convictions at least suggest someone did something wrong.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            nasch (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 11:43am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            No... charging means nothing - they can charge people with crimes all day long, and then drop the charges before any trial occurs.

            Exactly, and they don't even need to meet that low bar to take your life savings.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 3:42pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "charging means nothing"

            Unless you're the one that's been charged. In terms of things like getting jobs, housing, etc., it's nearly as large of a liability as an actual conviction.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 6:52pm

      Re:

      Why should have to entrust your own property to a third party?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 7:03am

      Re:

      Because Western Union wants to charge a fee for their service. Paying to access your own money is so abhorrent to some people, they'll do any crazy thing to avoid even the tiniest fee.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      pseudoNIMH (profile), 1 Jul 2015 @ 8:10pm

      Re:

      He might wisely not trust banks. A wire could have been frozen if the bank or WU found it suspicious.

      As a business owner who handles cash he might have been well-equipped to deal with amateur thieves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:39pm

    Time to take back your country, you can not let these thugs just take what they like when they like.

    Its great your countymen don't give 2 shits about these poor people getting their guilty money stolen. If you did care, the DEA and your government would be in a rebuilding phase after they were all turfed, but nah, everyone just keeps living their little lives and screw everyone else.

    Guess we are all keyboard warriors, I am just lucky I do not live there in the Crappy USA that steals from its citizens more often than any other country, and you guys think your free?

    I bet your forefathers they are spinning in their graves, good job on running your country like 6 year olds, "thats mine give it to me".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 3:52pm

    It must be embarrassing to be a federal agent now days. For something that used to be a job people looked up to and aspired to, to then to end up being a joke must be rough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 4:13pm

      Re:

      Yeah, I can only imagine the conversations they must have with friends and family.

      Father: So what do you do for a living these days?
      Government employee: I uh... I sell drugs to school children.
      Mother: Well, while your father and I may not agree with your career choice, I suppose it could be worse. Why, you could be working for the government!
      G. Employee: Uh, yeah, that would be pretty bad. But uh... no worries, I'd never stoop that low, really.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 7:43pm

      Re:

      that can be pretty much applied to Americans as a whole. People sued to respect them. now we just look at them in pity for allowing their country to become such a third world cesspit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        BernardoVerda (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 8:21pm

        Re: Re:

        Well, it's not quite a "third world cesspit" just yet.

        But it does appear to be well started down the long slide.

        -

        (As a Canadian, I'm not really in a strong position to feel much sense of superiority over it.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Charles (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 5:10pm

    Never give up

    I know it will do no good but I could not stand idly by and do nothing. I went to whitehouse.gov and emailed the POTUS informing his office of this situation as briefly as possible.

    Maybe an intern will see it and suggest using it for positive PR for the POTUS. Weirder things have happened.

    Haven't they?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 5:32pm

    What dren!

    I will be selling a property in Mexico that I purchased (I have the contract in hand) for $55,000 over 10 years ago. I am selling it, and I will get about twice that, for a $50,000+ profit after Mexican taxes, attorneys fees, etc. So, I will have about $110,000 to bring back. I think I will have my attorney there wire me about $5,000 per month, which I will declare 1/2 of as long term capital gains. At least I won't be robbed by the US Border Patrol or DEA, or Texas State Police!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Amy Alkon, 29 Jun 2015 @ 5:39pm

    Heartbreaking theft by government

    It's just so disgusting. I want to go find Do and tell him, "This is not what this country's about."

    Except...yes it is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 7:40pm

    in the most extreme case he could just decide to take the law into his own hands since those entrusted with enforcing the law have proven they have no interest in doing so and are instead actively committing crimes against the public instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 29 Jun 2015 @ 9:11pm

    Hmmm

    I wonder if you could write this off your income tax.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 9:17pm

    It's outrageous that Americans have to live in constant fear of thugs robbing them of their lawfully earned money. I've read about these robberies happening on trains, planes, and automobiles.

    At least Techdirt keeps us apprised of these crimes and the thugs who commit them. Techdirt readers won't be blindsided by these thugs. I never would have imagined injustices like this are happening all across America.

    The Mafia at least pretends to offer a service in return for the money they take. Thugs wearing badges don't even offer a service in return for the money they steal. That makes them worse than the Mafia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 30 Jun 2015 @ 12:42am

      Re:

      The Mafia at least pretends to offer a service in return for the money they take. Thugs wearing badges don't even offer a service in return for the money they steal. That makes them worse than the Mafia.

      They make your life safer by getting the criminals off the street and into uniforms where they are easy to recognize.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 9:55pm

    Pretty sure that quantum mechanics can only be engaged with if ones head has at least once been full of acid...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nomad of Norad, 29 Jun 2015 @ 10:09pm

    Legal robbery

    I have said this again and again. Civil forfeiture needs to be declared absolutely, 100% illegal both at the Federal AND at the State level. Ideally it also needs to be set retroactively so, as in, every agency that ever unfairly took money away from a citizen without absolute proof it was gained through crime must be required to give every thin dime back to everyone they took it from, but that's probably far harder to get made into law.

    But another thing that absolutely has got to be done is... make a Federal law that no government agency in the USA, Federal OR State, is permitted to benefit ONE THIN DIME from ANY confiscated money or property. It should be required that every single PENNY of it go to some unrelated charity. Say, to a drug-rehab non-profit organization that has NO connection at all with the law enforcement agencies.

    This would chop the legs out from under this tendency to unilaterally confiscate stuff under the *theory* that they *might* have come about due to criminal activity.... because too often now there's a conflict of interest, and the law enforcement agency itself benefits from all that money (i.e. they can buy more fancier police cars than the taxpayers might want to spend money on, or they can buy fancier equipment than they really need) which therefore makes them far more likely to find any excuse they can to take the money, and any excuse they can to not give it back once they have it, and so they have a very strong (greedy) incentive to keep engaging in civil forfeiture. This catch22 must be broken out of, and the simplest way to do that is to take all that confiscated money completely out of the hands of the police departments and the DEA and any other law enforcement agency of any kind whatsoever: that is, they can lock it away as evidence, but legally can't touch the money itself, and if they can't prove in a court of law that it came from a crime, then every single dime goes back to the one they took it from. NO EXCEPTIONS!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2015 @ 10:15pm

      Re: Legal robbery

      > But another thing that absolutely has got to be done is... make a Federal law that no government agency in the USA, Federal OR State, is permitted to benefit ONE THIN DIME from ANY confiscated money or property. It should be required that every single PENNY of it go to some unrelated charity. Say, to a drug-rehab non-profit organization that has NO connection at all with the law enforcement agencies.


      An excellent idea! This would take away the incentive of so called "law enforcement" agencies to steal people's money. There's no incentive for them to steal if they can't keep it. Genius!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Klaus, 30 Jun 2015 @ 12:04am

    One of the reasons why I no longer travel to the USA

    I've been many times to the USA. There are wonderful sights to see, the people are great, and I have friends in Florida & California, but I absolutely won't go there until I know I can get in and out of the country without being groped, without my electronic gear being rifled through, and without my belongings being at risk of legalized theft.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2015 @ 1:05am

    When will cash learn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Reality Check (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 4:04am

    Who scares me more?

    I would much rather encounter some actual drug dealers, than have an interaction with the DEA. Those guys are evil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Jun 2015 @ 1:34pm

      Re: Who scares me more?

      Yeah, I'll take a crook not wearing a badge over one with one any day.

      Should things go badly, I can at least defend myself from the former, and the courts will almost certainly side with me, but if I tried it with the latter, I'd be lucky to even make it to court.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2015 @ 4:29am

    He didn't earn that

    Even if he ran two businesses for many years and saved that money over time, he didn't earn that. This money belongs to the people who built the roads, sidewalks, subways. They hard working, or not working, people. Just ask Obama.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2015 @ 7:55pm

    It's the luck of the draw with the TSA. A friend of mine was going through an airport and the x-ray machine picked up the ~$11,000 in cash he had in his carry on. The agent running the machine stopped him, pulled the money out of the bag and then placed a hat on top of it. He called his supervisor over and said, "Look what he had on him." The supervisor said, "So what? Give him back his property." And that was the end of it. A different supervisor and who knows what could have happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 1:03am

    To Serve (Ourselves) and Protect (our Interests).

    "...removing criminals from the streets..."

    Good grief! Bite your tongue!

    If they removed the real criminals from the streets, what excuse would the DEACIAF BINSA ETC., use to legally rob the non-criminals.... or as they are known to the USG, the Not-Yet-Criminals, or more often, the Adversary - We The People.

    Criminals are no longer perceived by Authority as anti-social elements of society. Today, they are a most important asset and resource to the USG and its numerous extortion and enforcement Crews, because without the Real Criminals making news every day, the Tax-based dooH niboR gravy train comes to a screeching halt, for almost every "official" in America.

    To Serve (Ourselves) and Protect (Our Interests).

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    GEMont, 1 Jul 2015 @ 6:55pm

    Tin Foil Suitcases

    I read somewhere, years back, that all new US money has to have a thin metallic strip built right into its fabric, that broadcasts its denomination to satellites or scanners.

    Officially, the purpose was to discover and track large sums of money in order to catch criminals such as drug-dealers, because such people dealt in large sums of plain cash.

    Methinks this plan may have more far reaching aspects that have a lot more to do with public funds and making civil forfeiture easier and more profitable.

    Perhaps its time for Shielded Faraday Wallets, Purses and Brief-cases. Now there's a Kick-starter project I could get behind. :)

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    K.K., 7 Jul 2015 @ 5:59am

    Comically Transparent Propaganda

    As propaganda goes, this effort rates a C-. Any objective reader can spot several instances of shoddy journalism in this biased hit piece, but then, the internet is where journalistic integrity goes to die. And as the comments illustrate, gullible, uncritical simpletons lap this stuff up, no questions asked. The internet runs on confirmation bias, and there are no shortage of narcissists willing to feed the beast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 7 Jul 2015 @ 7:59am

      Re: Comically Transparent Propaganda

      Any objective reader can spot several instances of shoddy journalism in this biased hit piece,

      I suppose it would be a waste of your time to actually point them out, with specific criticism?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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