CBP's Hold Harmless and Release Agreement Form

Class Action and CBP’s Hold Harmless and Release Agreement

An interesting cash seizure issue has been percolating across the Internet that arises from the class action (lawsuit) filed by a Texas nurse who is originally from Nigeria, though now a U.S. Citizen. As I understand it (after briefly skimming the complaint), she attempted to leave the country with around $40,000. She did not report the money to CBP as required, and so the money was seized for a failure to report.

What happened after her cash was seized?

Upon receiving the notice of seizure, instead of filing a petition she filed a claim. When a claim is filed, you request the government to start judicial forfeiture proceedings, rather than administrative. I am greatly simplifying the process but, basically, when a claim is filed a judge will hear the case and eventually, some day, theoretically, you will have a trial by judge or jury about whether or not you can get seized money back. If a petition is filed, you instead are asking CBP to decide the matter internally without putting it before a judge.

What happens when a claim is filed?

In this case, because she filed a claim the U.S. attorney had the discretion to decide whether or not they would pursue judicial forfeiture, or not. As luck would have it, the U.S. attorney declined. The way the plaintiff’s attorneys read the law, this means CBP must return the money, immediately. Instead of doing that, CBP instead asked her to sign a hold harmless and release agreement that gave up her right to sue the government for seizure, and all else that comes with it.

She refused to sign the hold harmless and release agreement, and CBP refused to return the money. Now she is suing the government for a whole host of things, including for a return of the cash. I don’t blame her for standing on principle; but she must not need the money terribly bad to tie this up in the courts.

What will the effect of this case be?

This case is very interesting, and raises a number of questions; first and foremost is, why did the U.S. attorney’s office not file a complaint for forfeiture once the claim was filed? I think the U.S. attorney’s office somehow did not realize that once a claim is filed and a complaint for forfeiture is not filed timely, the property must be returned. In other words, someone at the U.S. attorney’s office did not realize the full consequences of what they were doing and probably believed that administrative forfeiture proceedings may still go forward.

Secondly, perhaps there were staffing issues (i.e., not enough personnel) that prevented the U.S. attorney’s office from wanting to handle judicial forfeiture proceedings, so they put it off. In my experience, cash seizures at George Bush Intercontinental Airport are pretty infrequent compared with other ports. There might not be a lot of push to process these cases, especially so in Texas. With drugs and other contraband pouring across the border, why spend time seizing money likely to be from legitimate sources? They have better places to direct their resources.

What does this mean for people who have their cash seized?

This case, no matter the outcome, probably has little meaning for people who have had their cash seized. First, anytime a client of mine has filed a claim seeking judicial forfeiture, the U.S. attorney’s office has fought the forfeiture, usually tooth-and-nail. I have no reason to believe that this will result in less cash seizures nationally. I also do not believe this reflects a desire by the government to avoid judicial forfeiture if a claim is filed. I think this is probably a very unique case. Therefore, I do not see any reason currently to stop filing petitions and start filing claims in the hopes of getting back the money without a fight, and without proof of its source and use.

If this plaintiff wins her case, this will only mean that if a claim is filed and a case is not started by the government, you get the money back without having to sign a hold harmless and release agreement. I believe that this type of situation has very, very infrequently happened, and so the class number of people involved, although not insignificant, will be small.

Can she still be charged criminally for a failure to report cash?

Yes, this woman can still be charged criminally for a failure to report cash — she remains in that legal jeopardy. The failure to report transporting more than $10,000 in cash into or from the country is a criminal offense, and the government has 5 years from the date of seizure to charge her with this crime. It does not matter that the money was legitimately derived or intended for legitimate uses, she still committed the crime of not reporting the cash; seizure is only one potential penalty, the other is arrest, fine, and imprisonment.  I suspect that the government is now weighing heavily the option of criminally charging the woman. I hope her attorney’s explained this risk to her. Maybe some things are worth waiting 5 years for.

In any event, I will be keeping a watchful on this case as it develops. Stay tuned for updates.

CBP Seizes $559,000 in Arizona

CBP seized more than a half-million dollars from a 37 year old Mexican man who had hid the cash in the spare tire of his truck when crossing the border from the United States to Mexico, CBP reports. Hiding the cash is bulk cash smuggling. The contains a somewhat odd and misleading statement about how the government brings criminal charges, more on that below this story:

TUCSON, Ariz. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Arizona’s Port of San Luis arrested a Mexican national after seizing more than $559,000 in undeclared currency.

Officers performing outbound inspections referred the 37-year-old man Thursday afternoon, when a search of his Chevy truck led to the discovery of packages inside of his spare tire. A count of the cash totaled more than $559,290.

Customs and Border Protection officers seized the currency, and turned the subject over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Federal law allows officers to charge individuals by complaint, a method that allows the filing of charges for criminal activity without inferring guilt. An individual is presumed innocent unless and until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The last paragraph contains the odd statements. Federal law does allow the use of complaint to file criminal charges, but without “inferring guilt”? My dictionary tells me “inferring” means to “deduce or conclude (information) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements”. That doesn’t make sense; I think what they meant to say was that a complaint can be filed, and by the filing of the complaint, the subject of the criminal investigation is “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The statement goes on to say that, sort of, but instead of saying “until proven guilty” it says “until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” The problem here is that evidence must be not only presented, but it is up for the jury to make the determination that the evidence is enough to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And I’m not sure about the use of the term “competent” evidence; generally speaking, for evidence to even be submitted to a jury it must be relevant and issues of “competence” would, to my mind, only apply to individuals giving testimony. If someone is not competent to testify (due to insanity, minority, etc.), they would not be allowed to testify and therefore not have that testimony heard by the jury.

 

 

Seized cash in sealed shirt bags

CBP Chicago Seizes $107k Cash

Finally, a customs cash seizure in Chicago has made the news! This story involved over $100,000 being taken out of the country and into Jordan. The story states that at least part of the $107,360 was concealed in “several sealed shirt bags” which then prompted the individual to declare $107,000. Our Chicago office sees a few cash seizure cases each year.

Interestingly, the story states that it was seized because the passenger “failed to properly report” the cash — but they do not state that it was seized for bulk cash smuggling. Based on the explanation in the story, I would expect it to also be seized for bulk cash smuggling violations — which could mean a loss of 50% of the money by the individual even if they can prove it came from a legitimate source and had a legitimate intended use.

CHICAGO—On April 11, 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers assigned to O’Hare International Airport intercepted one male subject concealing $107,360 during an Outbound Enforcement Operation.The passenger was traveling alone on his way to Jordan. When asked, the passenger gave a currency declaration for monetary instruments in the amount of $20,000. However, during inspection of the subject’s carryon baggage, several sealed shirt bags were found and inspected revealing numerous bundles of $100 bills. When CBP Officers found the concealed currency, the subject stated he actually had $107,000.

CBP seized the money because the passenger failed to properly report he was traveling outside of the United States with more than $10,000 as required by 31 USC § 5316.

Has CBP Chicago Seized Your Cash?

If CBP Chicago seized your cash at Chicago O’Hare Airport or Midway airport, you should give us a call for a free currency seizure consultation and make use of our free customs cash seizure legal guide.

CBP Counting Seized Money on Steel Table

CBP Philadelphia Seized $152k in Unreported Cash

The last time we wrote about how CBP Philadelphia seized cash was more than 3 years ago. Cash seizures do not happen too frequently at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), but they definitely do happen.

As proof, recently CBP Philadelphia conducted two cash seizures, with the total value being over $150,000. The two men, apparently in two separate incidents, were traveling to Turkey and Ghana. The story is light on details and follows the typical format, including the 2017 cash seizure statistic that on a typical day, CBP seized $265,205.

Here are the (scant) details on the CBP Philadelphia cash seizure:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized $152,342 in unreported currency from two men who recently departed Philadelphia International Airport.

On Saturday, CBP officers seized $105,842 from a man destined to Ghana who initially claimed that he possessed $60,000.

On April 1, CBP officers seized $46,500 from a man destined to Turkey who initially claimed that he possessed $30,000.

In each case, CBP officers afforded the travelers multiple opportunities to truthfully report all currency.

CBP is not releasing the travelers’ names because none was criminally charged. Travelers may carry as much currency as they wish into and out of the United States.  Federal law requires that travelers must report all U.S. and foreign monetary instruments totaling $10,000 or greater on a U.S. Treasury Department financial form.  None of the currency is taxed.

“Customs and Border Protection encourages all travelers to be completely honest and report all their currency during an inspection with a CBP officer.  Consequences could be severe, including seizure of all currency and possible criminal prosecution,” said Joseph Martella, CBP Area Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia.  “The best way for travelers to hold onto their currency is to fully comply with our nation’s currency reporting laws.”

Has CBP Philadelphia seized your cash?

If CBP Philiadelphia seized your cash at PHL airport, you should act quickly to ensure that your rights to get the money out of seizure and forfeiture are not lost. You should educate yourself on the process by reading our customs money seizure guide, or contact us directly for a consultation. Our experience can help you just like the many, many others we have already helped.

 

A CBP officer conducts a primary inspection at the SENTRI lane at Hidalgo International Bridge.

CBP seizes $11,00 from Trusted Traveler participant

Recently, CBP in Texas seized almost $11,000 from a “trusted traveler” who hid the money in her purse, in what sounds like it might be a bulk cash smuggling violation. I get several clients who have had money or undeclared goods seized, and who are members of trusted traveler programs, and are upset to find out that they are losing their trust traveler privileges. CBP has recently published a compilations of reasons people have been denied or had Global Entry revoked available here.

As this article somewhat explains, participation in these programs is a privilege, not a right; it is based on CBP’s determination that you are a low risk. If you demonstrate that you are no longer a low risk by not declaring goods or cash, then you will lose the privilege. The full story is available here, but it is edited for clarity by yours truly, as follows:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations (OFO) at the Hidalgo International Bridge recently seized $10,652 in unreported U.S. currency from a Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) member utilizing the trusted traveler lane.

On March 2, CBP officers at the Hidalgo International Bridge conducting inspections at the SENTRI lane selected a 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe for further inspection. The vehicle was driven by a 40-year-old female United States citizen from Pharr, TX. During the secondary search, officers discovered a total of $10,652 in unreported U.S. currency concealed throughout the woman’s purse.

CBP OFO seized the currency and revoked the woman’s SENTRI privileges. The case remains under investigation by Homeland Security Investigations special agents.

“CBP would like to remind the traveling public that SENTRI is a trusted traveler program, and any violations of program rules, such as non-declaration of currency in excess of $10,000, can lead to permanent revocation of SENTRI privileges,” said Port Director Carlos Rodriguez, Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas Port of Entry. “SENTRI members have demonstrated that they are low-risk travelers, and should be reminded that they are not exempt from inspection and more importantly, that violations of customs, immigration, agriculture laws and federal currency reporting requirements can lead to suspension from the program.”

SENTRI is a trusted traveler program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. via a dedicated lane. Participants must undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview.

Individuals are permitted to carry any amount of currency or monetary instruments into or out of the U.S., however, if the quantity is more than $10,000, they will need to report it to CBP. “Money” means monetary instruments and includes U.S. or foreign coins currently in circulation, currency, travelers’ checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form. Failure to declare may result in seizure of the currency and/or arrest.

Have you had cash or goods seized by CBP?

If you had cash or goods seized by CBP and are a trusted traveler, you will lose your trusted traveler status. However, you might still be able to get the seized cash or goods back if you act quickly; contact Great Lakes Customs Law for a consultation to learn what you can do to get your cash and goods back from CBP.

 

CBP Dulles Seizes Cash Bound for Ghana and Turkey

Dulles CBP conducted more currency seizure operations on people entering and leaving the country for not report carrying more than $10,000 cash. The law requires that transporting more than $10,000 in cash into or out of the United States be reported to a Customs officer at the port of entry or departure, typically on FinCen Form 105. In this particular summary of enforcement activity, CBP seized a total of about $56,000 from a three different sets of travelers, as follows:

Three more travelers failed to truthfully report all their currency to a CBP officers and saw their currency seized.Consequences for violating U.S. currency laws are severe: from loss of all unreported currency to potential criminal charges, as illustrated by the following three cases:

  • CBP officers seized $18,565 from a passenger boarding a flight to Istanbul, Turkey Sunday. Officers discovered the unreported currency in the travelers checked baggage, carry-on bag and cellular phone case.
  • CBP officers seized $20,710 from a family boarding a flight to Ankara, Turkey Sunday. Officers discovered the unreported currency in the family’s baggage.
  • CBP officers seized $17,210 from a couple boarding a flight to Accra, Ghana Sunday. Officers discovered the unreported currency in four envelopes inside their baggage.

Travelers in all three cases were U.S. citizens. None was arrested.

Travelers may carry as much currency as they wish into and out of the United States. None of the currency is taxed. Federal law requires that travelers who possess $10,000 or more in currency or monetary instruments must report it to a CBP officer and complete a U.S. Treasury Department financial form.

“Customs and Border Protection urges travelers to be completely honest during CBP inspections, including by truthfully report all of their currency,” said Daniel Mattina, CBP Area Port Director for the Area Port of Washington Dulles. “The best way for travelers to hold onto their currency is to fully comply with our nation’s currency reporting laws.”

In each case, CBP officers afforded the travelers multiple opportunities to truthfully report all currency.

Did you fail to report more than $10,000 in cash to CBP?

If you fail to report more than $10,000 in cash to CBP, your money could be seized. If your money has been seized for a failure to report, you should contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

Trucks line up for inspection at Peace Bridge Port of Entry, Buffalo, N.Y.

CBP Buffalo Seizes $144,733 Cash

During fiscal year 2017, CBP in Buffalo reports they seized cash from a total of 10 people, and a total amongst those 10 of $144,733. I didn’t have any clients among those 10 last year, but I have handled cash seizure cases in Buffalo in the past.

In years past, we’ve commented on the annual fiscal year report from CBP in Buffalo.

  • FY 2015: CBP Buffalo seized $267,323 in a total of 22 currency seizures;
  • FY 2014: CBP Buffalo seized over $450,000 in a total of 23 currency seizures;

Here’s the breakdown of all Enforcement and Traffic incidents at the Port of Buffalo from October 2016 through October 2017:

Enforcement Statistics Traffic Statistics
Narcotic Seizures

640

Port of Entry

Personal Vehicles

Trucks

Arrests

507

Currency Seizures

10 Totaling: $144,733

Buffalo

4,814,967

960,791

Merchandise Seizures

1,564 Totaling: $2,133,393

Champlain

1,004,351

309,327

Inadmissibles

11,340

Trout River

149,279

16,586

Agriculture Pest Interceptions

1,374

Alex Bay

594,002

204,264

Trade Seizures

1,331 Totaling:

$1,712,599 DV

Massena

855,787

27,256

Intellectual Property Rights Seizures

1,230 Totaling:

$1,576,944 DV

Ogdensburg

292,808

39,283

Note: DV refers to domestic value

Have you cash seized by CBP in Buffalo?

If Buffalo CBP seized cash from you can learn more about the process from our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and can contact us for a currency seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

A stacked pile of cash seized by Customs at Dulles airport

Customs at Dulles Seized $124k Cash in 3 Incidents

Dulles continues to lead the nation in news releases about money seized by Customs officers at their airport for violations of the cash reporting requirement, structuring laws, or bulk cash smuggling laws. In this story, CBP seized nearly $125,000 from three different groups of travelers. The majority of the money — $83,093 — was seized from a man heading to Ghana.

A backup full of $100 bills seized by Customs officers for failing to report cash at Dulles airport.
CBP officers seized $124,694 during three currency reporting violations at Washington Dulles International Airport March 7-8, 2018.

The remaining two seizures were from a couple arriving from Columbia, and a man heading to Pakistan, both of which were approximately $20,000. Here is the story from CBP:

STERLING, Va., — U.S. federal law is clear in regards to international travelers reporting to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers all currency and other monetary instruments they possess during a CBP arrival or departure inspection.

Travelers may carry as much currency as they wish into and out of the United States.  None of the currency or monetary instruments is taxed.  For travelers who possess $10,000 or more in currency or monetary instruments, they just take a few minutes to complete a U.S. Treasury Department financial form and continue on their journey.

Yet, travelers continue to violate this federal reporting requirement, include three groups of travelers who recently ceded a combined $124,694 in unreported currency to CBP officers at Washington Dulles International Airport.

Consequences for violating U.S. currency laws are severe: from loss of all unreported currency to potential criminal charges, as illustrated by the following three cases:

  • CBP officers seized $83,093 from a Ghanaian man destined to Ghana February 8;
  • CBP officers seized $23,082 from a Brazilian couple who arrived from Colombia February 8; and
  • CBP officers seized $18,519 from a U.S. citizen of Pakistan birth destined to Pakistan February 7.

Travelers escaped criminal charges in all three cases.

“Customs and Border Protection urges travelers to be completely honest during CBP inspections, and in particular, comply with a federal currency reporting regulation that is quite clear and simple,” said Daniel Mattina, CBP Area Port Director for the Area Port of Washington Dulles.  “The best way for travelers to hold onto their currency is to fully comply with our nation’s currency reporting laws.”

In each case, CBP officers afforded the travelers multiple opportunities to truthfully report all currency, and discovered additional currency during baggage examinations.

CBP officers returned currency in the amount of $93, $234 and $519, respectively, to the travelers for humanitarian purposes, and released the travelers.

Has Dulles CBP seized your cash?

If Dulles CBP seized your cash, beware that you stand to lose a lot of it because of their aggressive penalization of bulk cash smuggling and structuring offenses. You should contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

A pile of $20 bills on a table.

CBP Seizes $11k Cash from Vietnamese Couple at Dulles

Customs officers at Dulles airport seized more than $11,000 from a couple traveling to Vietnam. According to the story, they originally reported traveling with $4,000; then changed that to $7,000; then made a written report that they had $9,000; and ultimately, were found to have $11,822.

The law which requires the report, 31 USC 5316, essentially requires that you make the report in writing. Technically, if you are about to leave the country and have made no effort to report the money to CBP, you are in violation of the reporting requirement — because clearly you are attempting to break the law (by act or omission). So, even if this couple had made a fully accurate report the first time they were asked, they could still be responsible for a currency reporting violation under 31 USC 5316.

The other important thing to note is that the report must be accurate down to the penny, or the reporter would still be in violation of the reporting requirement, and could have all their cash seized by Customs.

You can read all about the currency reporting laws, and what to do when you’ve had your money seized by accessing our customs money seizure legal guide.

STERLING, Va. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers continue to enforce a variety of U.S. laws at Washington Dulles International Airport, including [ . . . ] seizing $11,822 of unreported currency from a Vietnam-bound couple.

CBP is not releasing the travelers’ names because none was criminally charged.

During outbound inspection operations Tuesday, CBP officers seized $11,882 in unreported currency from a couple boarding a flight to Vietnam.  The couple verbally reported that they possessed $4,000.  After officers read the currency reporting requirements, the couple stated they possessed $7,000, then they wrote down that they possessed $9,000.  An examination revealed currency in the woman’s purse, and additional currency concealed in one of two pairs of pants the man wore.

Travelers may carry as much currency as they wish into and out of the United States.  Federal law requires that travelers must report all U.S. and foreign monetary instruments totaling $10,000 or greater on a U.S. Treasury Department financial form.  None of the currency is taxed.

CBP officers provided a humanitarian monetary release of $322 to the couple, and released them to continue their travel.

Has Dulles CBP seized your cash?

If Dulles CBP seized your cash, beware that you stand to lose a lot of it because of their aggressive penalization of bulk cash smuggling and structuring offenses. You should contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

 

Over $140,000 in cash stacked in piles on a table after seizure by CBP at Dulles airport

3 Airport Cash Seizures at Dulles Result in $140,000 Seized

Customs officers in Dulles continue their high-profile cash seizures, by seizing more than nearly $150,000 in three separate seizure incidents from travelers heading to Ghana.

In this story, CBP reports that in the first seizure CBP seized cash valued at more than $100,000 from a man who leaving the United States destined for Accra, Ghana, who only claimed he was traveling with $2,000.

In the second cash seizure incident at Dulles, a man was arriving from Ghana who was carrying $20,000.

In the third incident, a man leaving for Ghana reported only transporting $5,000, but in reality had more than $23,000.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized more than $143,968 in unreported currency from two men who departed for Ghana and one who arrived from Ghana in three separate incidents during the weekend at Washington Dulles International Airport.

CBP is not releasing the travelers’ names because none was criminally charged.

During outbound inspection operations Sunday, CBP officers seized $100,111 from a man destined to Accra, Ghana who initially claimed that he possessed $2,000. CBP officers discovered $10,000 in each of 10 bank envelopes in the man’s backpack.

Earlier Sunday, CBP officers seized $20,031 from a man who arrived from Ghana who initially reported that he possessed $10,000. During an inspection, CBP officers discovered an additional $10,000 wrapped in a t-shirt in the man’s carry-on bag, plus another $31 in loose pocket currency.

On Saturday, CBP officers seized $23,826 from a man bound for Ghana after a currency detector dog alerted to his carry-on bag. The man initially reported that he possessed $5,000. A baggage exam revealed $23,826 in a suit jacket and camera bag.

All three seizures seem to fairly involve bulk cash smuggling, which means that I expect Dulles to try to keep around 50% of the seized cash as a penalty.

Has Dulles CBP seized your cash?

If Dulles CBP seized your cash, beware that you stand to lose a lot of it because of their aggressive penalization of bulk cash smuggling and structuring offenses. You should read our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.