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.

Avoid having your merchandise seized at the US border by customs

Another customs and trade lawyer points out that there is going to be what should be a useful webinar for importers and brokers called “Recovering Your Seized Cargo”.  Incidentally, he will be one of the presenters. He says,

The speakers will be Dennis McKenzie, Director, Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Division, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Washington, D.C., and Peter Quinter, Partner in Charge, Customs and International Trade Department, Becker & Poliakoff law firm.  The panel experts will explain the CBP detention and seizure process, as well as the administrative petition and judicial forfeiture process.

If you have ever had your money seized by Customs for failure to declare over $10,000, had merchandise seized for misdeclaring its value or not paying enough customs duties, had your bank account seized for alleged trade-based money laundering, or had any other items detained or seized by U.S. Customs for violating another Federal agency’s regulations, you should sign up for this webinar.

At $155, It looks to be a good value for the dollar.