$4.65M Counterfeit Cash Seizure At Detroit Metro Airport

Stacks of Counterfeit $100 Bills that was part of the cash seizure at Detroit Metro Airport

On February 12, there was an unusual cash seizure at Detroit Metro Airport. U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) seized over $4.6 million dollars in “Hell money” — counterfeit currency burned in Asian funeral rituals to impart wealth the deceased in the afterlife — from a couple arriving from Seoul, South Korea.

This is definitely an interesting story. And from the buzz I see on social media, the couple will not face (or at least has not faced) criminal prosecution. The law on use and possession of counterfeit currency is found in 18 USC Title 25, and it appears that the government was not satisfied the couple had intent to use the money (as if it were lawful tender) so as to charge them with a crime.

In fact, I’m not sure this qualifies as a “cash seizure” because the story only says that the Secret Service and Homeland Security Investigations “took custody” of it. I’m not sure what that means, if not seizure. But the legal question that I am curious about is, if there is no crime under Title 18 (and assuming no other crimes), what is the basis for seizure?

There must be one, and I’m sure the notice of seizure will be rife with citations if, in fact, this actually is a cash seizure. I don’t have the time to get into that issue now.

In any event, here’s the story of this cash seizure at Detroit metro airport:

DETROIT– U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO) at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport announces, today, the seizure of $4,650,000 in Hell money printed to resemble U.S. and Vietnamese currency.

Hell money is printed on joss paper and resembles legal tender bank notes but is not legal tender or recognized currency; instead, Hell money is presented as burnt offerings to the deceased. This custom is often practiced in certain Asian cultures.

“Attempting to import any amount of counterfeit currency, regardless of the intended purpose, can have serious implications for arriving travelers,” said CBP Port Director Devin Chamberlain.  “Quality law enforcement work and solid attention to detail resulted in this seizure, and I am proud of the officers involved.”

The seizure occurred Feb. 12 after CBP officers encountered the couple who were arriving from Seoul, Korea.  Each person made conflicting statements about the amount of currency they were carrying. CBP officers referred the couple for a baggage examination.  A search of their luggage resulted in the discovery of 93 bundles of counterfeit U.S. $100 bills and 32 bundles of counterfeit Vietnamese Dong, the national currency of Vietnam.  The couple said the counterfeit currency was to be used as burnt offerings to the deceased.

CBP reminds international travelers that the manufacturing of, or importation of counterfeit Federal Reserve notes could result in federal charges.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Secret Service took custody of the fake currency.

Agents are reminding all travelers that the manufacturing of, and/or importation of counterfeit bank notes could result in federal charges.


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