Orlando International Airport (MCO) is a hub of activity for tourists from all over the world. It’s also where federal agents are on the lookout for people traveling with large amounts of cash. I know this because it was part of my job responsibility when I was a Special Agent with the U.S. Customs Service.
Acting under the auspices of federal criminal and civil asset forfeiture laws, Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents work with Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) personnel to identify travelers with large sums of cash in their luggage or on their person. They are particularly interested in men between the ages of 18 and 40 who have a one-way ticket, especially if the ticket is to a state where recreational marijuana is legal.
The fact of the matter is that if you are traveling with more than $10,000.00 cash – for whatever reason – in or out of the United States, you could very well be detained by federal agents. If they then suspect any possibility of drug trafficking, smuggling, or money laundering, they can legally seize all of your money without charging you with a single crime. By law, you are required to declare the money on a Currency and Monetary Instruments Report.
Additionally, local or state police have the ability to seize any amount of cash that they have probable cause to believe is involved in criminal activity. This typically occurs during a traffic stop with the assistance of K-9 trained to detect drug residue on currency.
What Happens after Federal Agents Seize Cash at the Airport
When federal agents seize cash or property, they must write you a receipt at the time of seizure and send you a Notice of Seizure within 60 days. The Notice of Seizure tells you how to file a claim and gives you a deadline (35 days from the day the notice was mailed) for doing so.
If you do not file a claim within the stipulated time period, the government can automatically keep all of the money. If you follow the administrative route, waive your right to any court action, and petition for remission or mitigation, your claim could well be denied and you would not have any legal recourse. If, on the other hand, you file a claim for court action, the government must take action within 90 days by:
- Returning the cash or property
- Filing a civil forfeiture case in district court
- Getting a criminal indictment showing that the cash or property is subject to forfeiture under the law
Keep in mind that civil forfeiture, unlike criminal forfeiture, does not require a criminal charge. It is a judicial process that allows the government to keep property that is allegedly involved in a crime but gives the individual(s) from whom the property was taken the right to contest the seizure through trial proceedings. The federal government’s burden of proof in these cases is much lower (preponderance of evidence) than in criminal forfeiture proceedings and can result in losing a significant amount of cash. Interestingly, the State of Florida is one of a handful of states that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the currency is proceeds of crime in civil forfeiture cases.
An Experienced Asset Forfeiture Attorney Can Help Get Your Money Back
As the Institute for Justice has concluded, civil forfeiture is “inherently abusive” because the process deprives you of your property for months, years, or forever. You can, of course, attempt to get your cash back from the government by signing away your rights or filing a federal lawsuit. However, your chances of getting some or all of it back improve significantly when you have an experienced asset forfeiture attorney advocating on your behalf.
An experienced asset forfeiture attorney can represent you in U.S. District Court or state court for seek the return of the property right after the seizure has occurred. This can speed up the process considerably, often resulting in the expedited return of your cash. If, on the other hand, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decides to file a civil forfeiture complaint in U.s. District Court, your attorney can also help you fight to get your money back. In either case, challenging the seizure and forfeiture through legal intervention puts you in a better position to get your cash back than filing an administrative petition for remission or mitigation or waiving your rights to the money by doing nothing.
Leverage the Experience of a Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Who Worked in the Asset Forfeiture Division
As a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, in the Asset Forfeiture Division, I forfeited millions of dollars’ worth of homes, vessels, vehicles, currency and jewelry. Since going into private practice, I’ve helped recover money seized by both federal and state law enforcement. I am one of a handful of attorneys in Florida with this background and will leverage my experience to help you navigate the applicable forfeiture laws and negotiate for the release of your seized money or property.
Call me today at 407.276.0500 or use the website form for a free consultation. Let’s get started fighting for the return of your property.
Institute for Justice. (2018, Aug.) IJ delivers one-two punch against airport cash seizures.
U.S. Department of Justice. (2017, July 19). Attorney General Sessions Issues Policy and Guidelines on Federal Adoptions of Assets Seized by State or Local Law Enforcement.