At the time of a seizure of currency or money at an airport or border crossing, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“CBP”) should give you a “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence” (form 6051S). The custody receipt contains the “FPF No.” allowing your Customs (CBP) cash seizure case to be tracked at the Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures office of Customs (“FP&F”) for the airport or border crossing where the cash seizure occurred.
The custody receipt for seized property from Customs is proof of the cash seizure and helps protect your rights to retrieve the seized money. The receipt shows how much money was seized, who at CBP seized it, and has the contact information for FP&F. If you did not receive a custody receipt, you should be worried. Not everyone at CBP is honest, especially when it involves seized money.
CAFRA Notice of Seizure is issued after Customs seizes money
After CBP seizes money, Customs is required to “send” a CAFRA Notice of Seizure (sometimes called a “seizure notice”, “CAFRA Notice”, or customs money seizure letter). This notice should explain the circumstances of the cash seizure: the date, airport or border location where the cash was seized, surrounding circumstances of the airport (like whether leaving or departing, your flight number, etc.), the facts Customs’ alleges support the currency seizure such as failure to report (31 USC § 5316), structuring (31 USC § 5234) and/or bulk cash smuggling (31 USC § 5332). CAFRA stands for “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act.”
The notice of seizure is sent by certified mail if the recipient in the United States and registered mail if the recipient is outside the United States. If CBP does not have a valid address the notice of seizure can get lost. If you have problems with your mail – like the mail in your country is unreliable – you might get the notice of seizure too late (e.g., after the response deadline expired), or not at all.
Delayed receipt of the Notice of Seizure jeopardizes your case
Any delayed receipt of the notice of seizure jeopardizes your case. You should receive the notice within a few weeks if you live in the United States or overseas. If more than 30 days pass without receipt of the CAFRA seizure notice your case is in jeopardy. This is because Customs is only required to send the notice, not prove you received it.
It is also important to receive the seizure notice quickly because you may only have 30 days from the date on the notice of seizure to respond, not 30 days from the date the notice of seizure is received (really, the reguatations say it is 30 days from mailing). This means CBP could date the notice on a Friday, put it in the mail on a Monday, wait 2 weeks for registered delivery, and leave you with less than 14 days to respond. Customs regularly does this. So it’s important to receive the CAFRA notice of seizure quickly to make a petition for relief, file a claim, or submit an offer in compromise, to avoid permanent loss of the money seized by customs.
We act quickly to get the seizure notice for our currency seizure clients because without it, you cannot get your seized money back. If you’ve waited for it more than a few weeks after CBP seized your currency/money at a border or airport, contact us.
Responding to a customs currency seizure
Responding to a customs currency seizure correctly is important. The CAFRA Notice of Seizure is a legal document and includes a complex “Election of Proceedings” form. The seizure notice and election of proceedings form should be treated with the same seriousness as a warrant or a writ. It is a legal document and requires a legal response, not an apology letter or explanation. The response determines the outcome of your currency seizure case!
Sometimes the notice of seizure contains bad legal advice like the level of proof required, what type of documentation you must supply, or by “requiring” you to explain why you broke the law. Admitting you violated the law is always a bad idea; and once you admit it, you cannot take it back when CBP decides to keep the seized money. You should not rely on CBP to tell you how to get your seized cash back or talk to them about your case. Get your own legal advice and a free currency seizure consultation.
Because more laws and court decisions are favoring Customs, they are becoming much more aggressive about currency seizure cases and stricter about when they will return seized money than in the past.