Customs seizes $25,000 currency in El Paso, Texas

The El Paso Times reports on a recent currency seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas, from a woman who was carrying $25,000  as she attempted to walk into Mexico. They found three bundles of currency in her purse, all unreported.

This article gives me the opportunity to provide some additional insight for my readers: every time currency is seized Customs asks the moneyrolldistrict attorney’s office if they want to prosecute. I do not have access to the actual numbers, but from my experience in the vast majority of currency seizures there is no criminal prosecution. But as this article shows, that is not always the case.

In this instance, the district attorney decided to prosecute and the woman is being held without bond and facing criminal charges. If it
turns out the money was from legitimate source and she had a legitimate intended use, this situation was completely avoidable. But now, even if criminal charges are ultimately not filed or if she is ultimately found not guilty of a crime, she will still face civil forfeiture of the money and, if she wants it back, will have to fight for its return administratively, or in the courts.

If you have had currency seized from Customs you should seek the advice of an attorney. If you do not do so, you might only make the situation worse by trying to handle it on your own. Please make use of the various articles I have made available to the public to help better understand your situation and the procedures involved, but do not let them replace the advice of attorney who is familiar with the law and your particular circumstances.

Responding to a Customs currency seizure

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please inform yourself on the process by reading this article and then contact our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

What documents should I have gotten and what will I get?

At the time of a currency seizure, Customs probably gave you a “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence” form (6051S), which will have some different numbers at the top, including an FPF No. so that your case can be tracked at Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures office (“FP&F”) of Customs. This form should show what exactly was seized, the name of the seizing officer, and Customs’ contact information — usually for the local FP&F branch of Customs. FP&F should then send by certified mail a formal written notice of seizure (“CAFRA Seizure Notice” or “CAFRA Notice”). You should get it within a few days as long as Customs has your correct address, which they may have asked for during your initial detention at the border or port. You will have 30 days from the date on the letter (not the date the letter is received) to respond.
10kWe do not recommend contacting Customs by yourself until you have at least spoken to an attorney. Any statements you make to Customs, whether while you are being detained or by telephone, can be used against you. You may be panicked and say something that is misinterpreted by Customs as an admission of wrongdoing, or might make them suspect you are involved in something illegal. That will make it harder to get your money back. Therefore, we recommend contacting an attorney with experience in customs seizures immediately after receiving the CAFRA Notice. In any event, if you have not received this notice within 7 days of the seizure you should contact an attorney so they can request a copy of the notice of seizure for you, make sure that a timely response is made, or an extension of time to respond is requested and granted. This will help you make sure you preserve all your rights and options and improves your chances of  successfully getting all or most of your money back.

CAFRA Notice of Seizure & Election of Proceedings

CAFRA stands for “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act” and is, in our practice, the law that most of my client’s currency seizures fall under. After you’ve been detained and released, the CAFRA Notice you receive will have a basic explanation of the facts surrounding the seizure, including: the date and place of seizure, surrounding circumstances, and the facts Customs’ alleges are the basis for the seizure. The CAFRA Notice is a formal document, and should be treated and responded to as such. How and when you respond to the CAFRA Seizure Notice will determine the outcome of your currency seizure case!

What are my options for getting my seized currency back from customs?

The CAFRA Notice will also cite the applicable laws, including failure to report, bulk cash smuggling, or a currency structuring violation to evade the reporting requirement, among others. It will also list your options to respond to the CAFRA Notice, which include:

  • Filing a Petition for Remission or Mitigation (including the right to file a Supplemental Petition after decision on the first Petition)
  • Pay the Full, Appraised Domestic Value of Seized Property
  • File an Offer in Compromise
  • Abandon the Property
  • Institute Judicial Proceedings
  • Do Nothing

The details of these options are explained in the CAFRA Notice, and Customs will include and ask you to complete and return what is called an “Election of Proceedings” form. This form will require you to select one of the above options. The advice we give to our currency seizure clients varies with the circumstances of each seizure case. Do not decide how to respond to a CAFRA Notice without first consulting an attorney. There may be times when a Judicial Proceedings make more sense than filing a Petition, and a qualified attorney can help you weigh those options and make that decision. Any mistake or error in judgment you make can cost you dearly. The majority of the time, however, I do recommend my client’s to file a Petition for Remission or Mitigation as the best option. The Petition, when filed by our office, is a legal memorandum that contains detailed factual narrative with our client’s side of the story, what led to the seizure, a review of the relevant law, regulations and Custom’s own guidelines concerning the seizure. When the facts allow for it, my Petition will always include a strong argument for return of the money in full, or even when there is a valid basis for the currency seizure, a strong argument for the money to be returned upon payment of a fine in the smallest amount of money possible, rather than forfeiture of all your money.

How can I find out more or hire a law firm to help with my customs currency seizure?

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit. Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?

Customs’ seizes T-Rex skull in Jackson, Wyoming as part of ongoing investigation

According to this news report, and this one, Customs in Jackson, Wyoming, exercised a federal warrant to seize the skull of a Tarbosaurus from someone’s home. The story draws a parallel to another recent news item about the importation of dinosaur bones:

Federal officials recently seized a nearly complete Tarbosaurus skeleton that was sold at auction and arrested a Florida man for illegally importing dinosaur fossils.

A U.S. attorney for the president of Mongolia says that country welcomes the increased awareness for the illegal trade of Mongolian fossils.

Local 8 news.

According to the limited information in the News & Guide article, the fossil was seized for  failure to provide proper documentation that the export was done in compliance with the law.

That article also references a similar case involving a dinosaur skeleton in New York and Florida, and I would also draw the reader’s attention to the story I blogged about a few months ago in Detroit where seized fossils went unclaimed and were thereafter donated to the University of Michigan.

Maybe instead of devoting so much of my blogging lately to avoid having your currency seized I need to start focusing on avoiding having your fossils seized…

Structuring currency imports and exports

The law concerning reporting transportation of more than $10,000 in currency and/or monetary instruments coming into or out of the United States is clear; any amount more than $10,000 must be reported. So what about two or more of transactions of $10,000 or less?

It is illegal to structure an importation or exportation in order to avoid filing the required report under 31 USC § 5324(c)(3). For example, if a person wanted to transport $25,000 from the U.S. to Brazil, it is illegal to divide the money into smaller sums and export those smaller sums on the same or different occasions to avoid filing a report. It does not matter if the money is divided and given to a  person on the same flight (or same car, bus, boat, etc.), or if it’s done days, weeks, months, or years apart if done to avoid having to file a report — structuring the transaction to avoid filing the report is illegal and carries serious civil and/or criminal consequences. It does not matter if you have other reasons for structuring the transaction, so long as one of those reasons to is to avoid having to file a report your structuring of the transaction is illegal.

On the other hand, dividing the money for any reason other than evading the reporting requirement is legal. However, my typical cautionary disclaimer applies: you still have to prove it and convince Customs that your intent was not to avoid filing a report, and hope that your evidence is strong enough to get your money back (remember, Customs will have seized it pursuant to 31 USC § 5317).

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?

Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.

Many posts in this series have dealt with how and why Customs will seize currency and monetary instruments crossing the border for a violation of 31 USC 5316, which is a failure to report. Customs is also empowered to seize cash or its equivalent smuggled into or out of the United States under 31 USC 5332(c) in addition to seizure for failure to file a report.

At its core, the law against bulk cash smuggling prohibits (1) the concealment of currency or monetary instruments, with (2) an intention to evade the reporting requirement, during the (3) knowing transport, transfer, or attempted transport or transfer, of the currency or monetary instruments out of or into the U.S. 31 USC 5332(a)(1).

Concealment can be done on your person, including  in clothing, a conveyance (e.g., a vehicle), in luggage, in a backpack, with or in merchandise, or any other container, whether it is worn or carried by the person transporting, transferring, or attempting to transport or transfer the currency or monetary instruments. 31 USC 5332(a)(2).

This law allows Customs to seize and forfeit through a civil proceeding “[a]ny property” including the container, conveyance, luggage or clothing, “involved in a violation . . . or a conspiracy to commit such violation, and any property traceable to such violation or conspiracy[.]” 31 USC 5332(c). This means that not only will Customs seizue the currency or monetary instruments, but in some cases also the luggage, backpack, merchandise, or conveyance in which it was concealed. The law also provides for penalties for a criminal conviction of not more than 5 years, among other sanctions. 31 USC 5332(b).

Each of the 3 elements above have a legal definition too detailed for an article this short, but suffice it to say that the terms “knowing” and “intentional” do not have the common, everyday definitions you might expect. If you are not a lawyer or don’t mind losing more than $10,000 do not try to be clever and figure it out.

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?

Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?

Sometimes the failure to file the required report with Customs leading to a currency seizure arises because there is a mistaken assumption that only currency, or only U.S. currency, needs to be reported. This is wrong.

The reporting requirement applies to all monetary instruments. This is a legal term, defined in at least two places. First, 31 USC 5312 defines them, in relevant part, as:

(A) United States coins and currency;

(B) [ . . .] coins and currency of a foreign country, travelers’ checks, bearer negotiable instruments, bearer investment securities, bearer securities, stock on which title is passed on delivery, and similar material; and

The Federal Regulations, namely 31 CFR 1010.100(dd), provides a more detailed definition
as to what is included in the definition of  monetary instrument, including:

(i) Currency;

(ii) Traveler’s checks in any form;

(iii) All negotiable instruments (including personal checks, business checks, official bank checks, cashier’s checks, third-party checks, promissory notes (as that term is defined in the Uniform Commercial Code), and money orders) that are either in bearer form, endorsed without restriction, made out to a fictitious payee (for the purposes of §1010.340), or otherwise in such form that title thereto passes upon delivery;

(iv) Incomplete instruments (including personal checks, business checks, official bank checks, cashier’s checks, third-party checks, promissory notes (as that term is defined in the Uniform Commercial Code), and money orders) signed but with the payee’s name omitted; and

(v) Securities or stock in bearer form or otherwise in such form that title thereto passes upon delivery.

(2) Monetary instruments do not include warehouse receipts or bills of lading.

It is noteworthy that the statute says it includes the foregoing, with the implication that just because a type of monetary instrument is not listed will not, by necessity, mean that is excluded from the reporting requirement.

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?

Criminal & civil penalties for monetary instrument reporting violations

Although it may also be applicable to other aspects law on records and reports of monetary transactions, this question and answer article is designed to answer frequently asked rudimentary questions about currency seizures that occur at the U.S. border for failing to report monetary instruments in excess of $10,000. It should be understood in the context of the other series of articles written on this topic and made available on this site.

Is failing to report transportation of more than $10,000 in monetary instruments a crime?

In short, yes. There are criminal and civil penalties for violations, but not all persons are charged with criminal violations. You can be charged with one or the other, or both civil and criminal violations, as well as forfeiture of your monetary instruments.

What are the criminal penalties?

Failing to make a report or omitting or misstating a material fact in a report potentially brings with it criminal penalties. That includes, depending on the severity of the violation, a fine ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 and/or imprisonment from five to ten years.

What are the civil penalties?

Failing to make a report or omitting or misstating a material fact in a report brings with it civil penalty not “more than the amount of the monetary instrument for which the report was required.” Any civil penalty assessed for a violation of failing to report currency at the border is reduced by the amount of money that was forfeited.

What about structuring a transaction to avoid filing a report?

Structuring a transaction to avoid filing the required report is illegal. The relevant law makes it illegal, when importing or exporting more than $10,000 in monetary instruments,  to:

(1) fail to file a report . . . , or cause or attempt to cause a person to fail to file such a report;
(2) file or cause or attempt to cause a person to file a report required . . . that contains a material omission or misstatement of fact; or
(3) structure or assist in structuring, or attempt to structure or assist in structuring, any importation or exportation of monetary instruments.

If you do any of the immediately above, you will be be fined and/or imprisoned for no more 5 years. There are additional, higher penalties when done as “a pattern of any illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period.

In addition to the criminal penalties for a structured transaction violation, there are also civil penalties. 31 USC 5321. The amount of the civil penalty will not be greater than the amount involved in the transaction, and that amount shall be reduced by the amount of any monetary instruments forfeited.

Will the civil penalty stay on my record?

If you are not criminally charged it is not something that will be on your criminal record.  Customs, however, will always have a record when you cross the border that you were transporting currency and failed to file a report. This will, in all likelihood, mean that you will at some point while crossing the border be questioned about whether or not you have currency or have your baggage examined. There is nothing that can be done to avoid that.

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?

 

Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?

Title 31 of the U.S. Code, § 5316, is the law requiring that a report be filed when leaving or departing the U.S. for a (1) knowing (2) transportation (in the past, present or future) of (3) monetary instruments (including currency, U.S. or foreign) (4) of more than $10,000  (5) at one time.

Each of the elements numbered 1 through 5 above have a legal definition too detailed for an article this short, but suffice it to say that the terms “knowing,” “monetary instruments,” and “one time” do not have the common, everyday definitions you might expect. If you are not a lawyer or don’t mind losing more than $10,000 do not try to be clever and figure it out.

When leaving or arriving to the U.S., how do I know if I need to file a report?

Some believe the $10,000 reporting requirement is per person, meaning that if there are two people then the reporting requirement is raised to $20,000, and $30,000 for three people, and so forth; or, they also think that if no single person has on them or in their luggage more than $10,000, there is no reporting requirement. This is usually not true.

Some particular examples

So to what scenarios does the reporting requirement apply? Let’s look at a few examples that assume a hypothetical husband and wife traveling together:

  1. Husband is transporting $8,000 for himself, and $7,000 for his wife. Is there a reporting requirement? Yes, Husband needs to file a report because Husband is transporting more than $10,000 at one time.
  2. Husband wants to transport $18,000. Trying to avoid filing a report, Husband gives $9,000 to Wife to transport and he transports $9,000. Is there a reporting requirement? Yes, Husband needs to file a report because, among other things, he is causing more than $10,000 to be transported at one time. It is also the crime of structuring.
  3. Husband and Wife are each transporting $6,000 for their own account. Is there a reporting requirement? No, neither Husband nor Wife need to file a report because the money is for their own account (but see the “Cautionary Disclaimer” below).

Cautionary disclaimer

In the case of currency seizures, for whose account the money is and who is carrying it is often a difficult matter to prove. It really guts the distinctions in the first three scenarios, especially in #3. It is difficult, if not impossible, to sufficiently prove for whose account cash currency is being carried, especially between a husband and wife, or other family, and especially if transported in baggage. It’s a lot easier if you are carrying money orders or traveler’s checks made payable to either husband or wife. When in doubt, disclose everything and file a report.

If you do not file a report and you raise the suspicions of U.S. Customs, or you play fast and loose with the rules and you will get your currency or monetary instruments seized. If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?

Detroit Customs donates seized fossils to University of Michigan

From the Detroit Free Press comes this story about U.S. Customs seizing hundreds of pre-historic fossils for an apparent failure to declare. The article does not make it clear if they were declared at all, or if there was a false declaration (e.g., declared imported for exhibition at a trade show instead of imported for sale). There is probably a reason why the importer(s) never filed a petition for remission to have the fossils returned.

An excerpt of the story follows, with my emphasis in bold:

The fossils — whose origins and age are unknown — were seized in March 2011 after two Canadian men at the Ambassador Bridge claimed they were attending a fossil trade show in Illinois.

A secondary inspection revealed several boxes containing more than 1,100 fossils that were for sale. They were seized because the unidentified men did not properly declare their goods.

[Customs spokesman Ken Hammond] said the agency tried to contact the men several times to reclaim the fossils and pay associated penalties, but they never got back in touch with customs and border protection.

Hammond did not now how much the penalties were. He said the men were not criminally charged. He did not know where the men acquired the fossils.

“The bad part that happened with these individuals is they didn’t declare their intentions to us,” Hammond said, adding that the men would have had to go through the proper importing process.

[ . . . ]

19 USC § 1497 subjects any article excluded in the declaration and entry made by the importer (and not mentioned before baggage inspection begins) to forfeiture. There could also be a monetary penalty under the same statute equal to the value of the fossils.

Customs can, and does, have authority to donate seized property in certain circumstances. Earlier this year, Customs donated $1.3 million worth of seized property to charities.