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.