Protecting your rights while traveling can be challenging. Most travelers understand when their actions are tracked by law enforcement because of the government’s role to prevent terrorism. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also been carefully monitoring the movements of travelers for a very different reason: cold hard cash. As reported recently in the Detroit Free Press, the DEA is conducting an extensive surveillance program, separate from anti-terrorism efforts, specifically to target travelers suspected of carrying large amounts of cash, in order to seize it. If you have been targeted by the DEA and have had your property seized by the agency, you will need an experienced attorney who understands how the federal system operates in order to get your money back.
Law enforcement’s goal in these encounters with individual passengers is clearly just to seize cash. Protecting your rights in such an enviornment can be challenging. The DEA claims to seize the money because it is suspected of being used to buy drugs or is the product of drug trafficking, and so, the DEA only requires suspicion of criminal activity to keep the money.
The DEA appears to be targeting what they claim are suspicious travelers: those with criminal histories, especially drug trafficking offenses; those with suspicious itineraries like one-way tickets; those exhibiting suspicious behavior in booking travel (i.e., paying cash, buying last-minute, providing a non-working contact number); or those simply traveling to cities known to be drug trafficking hubs.
This has led to not only unjust seizures, but also profiling, racial and otherwise. By making assumptions about you and your property, the DEA has deemed you guilty until proven innocent.
Making matters worse, in the event your money is seized, you have to sue the government to get your property back. Even if one successfully sues, the government can still keep a portion under asset forfeiture rules. Additionally, the DEA has not revealed how it acquires the extensive travel information it uses to target people. However, investigations revealed that the DEA was paying off employees at Amtrak and nearly every major U.S. airline to secretly supply the passenger information.
It is important for travelers to know their rights in light of these questionable government tactics. Travelers need to consider whether they want to travel with large amounts of cash knowing this risk exists. Additionally, if approached by federal agents or other law enforcement, travelers are advised to inform agents that they do not consent to any warrantless searches. Finally, if you have had your money and/or property seized at an airport, bus station, or train station, call the Law Office of John Freeman, PLLC for a free consultation immediately.