Category: Court Cases

Statute of Limitations for Currency Reporting Violations

This is an article about the statute of limitations for currency reporting violations (failure to report monetary instruments over $10,000, bulk cash smuggling, and structuring); in other words, how soon after an offense is committed (or when the¬†currency is seized) that the government must bring criminal charges against you before they are prevented¬†by the statute of limitations. If you want to skip to that part and don’t want to learn some fascinating facts about the most intact T-Rex skeleton¬†ever found, and how one of its discoverers was pursued by the government for allegedly failing to report a currency and monetary instruments over $10,000, scroll down to the next heading.

Currency Reporting Violations and Sue the Dinosaur

Like a lot of grown men, I was fascinated with dinosaurs as a kid. So those kind of headlines still catch my eye. The other day I came across this CNN story — a saga really — about the discovery of the “most intact T-rex skeleton¬†ever found” back in 1990 (“Sue“). To sum things up, shortly after the fossil was discovered FBI¬†agents, accompanied by the national guard, seized the fossil because it was, they alleged, on Indian Trust land¬†(read: under Federal government jurisdiction). The

Sue the Dinosaur

ownership of the dinosaur, and allegations that the people involved with the discovery had stolen and sold dinosaur fossils found on public land, were in the courts for years.

But as I read the story, I was intrigued to read that one of the people responsible for the discovery of the dinosaur “served 18 months in federal prison for customs violations” unrelated to the dinosaur discovery. I thought it must have had something to do with the importation of dinosaur fossils like happened in Detroit a few years ago, which I blogged about.¬†But¬†not so.¬†Looking into the matter further, I discovered this 1996 article from the New York Times¬†that explains the customs violations were for failing to¬†report the transport of more than $10,000 into or out of the United States:

…Mr. Larsen was convicted of two felonies — failure to report to American customs officials $31,700 in travelers checks he had brought from Japan, and failure to report $15,000 in cash he took to Peru.

Oops! The story basically says that, of 153 charges in a 39 count indictment brought against him by the Federal government, these currency reporting violations and some misdemeanors related to the sale of fossils valued at less than $100 is what stuck. In the context of the fiasco about the dinsoaur bones, winding up getting criminally charged with failure to report currency being transported in excess of $10,000 seems kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it?

What’s the statute of limitations of currency reporting violations?

This story was just the occasion for me write about the statute of limitations for currency reporting violations (failure to report, bulk cash smuggling, and unlawful structuring that often result in currency seizures). The statute of limitations for currency reporting violations under 31 USC §§ 5316, 5324 and 5332 is found in 18 USC § 3282(a), which states:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense, not capital, unless the indictment is found or the information is instituted within five years next after such offense shall have been committed.

That means once the event giving rise to the violation has occurred, the government has 5 years from that date to bring criminal charges against you.

My customs currency seizure clients often want to know: is failing to report currency a crime? Yes, it is, and it is punishable by a fine of $250,000 to $500,000 and 5 to 10 years in jail. But I also tell them that if they were not arrested at the time the currency was seized, and the U.S. Attorney was notified and declined to prosecute you, they probably will not face criminal charges.

But just because you weren’t arrested and charged immediately still means it could happen up to 5 years later.

Keep Calm and Declare Monetary Instruments Exceeding $10,000 USD

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?


Reporting Money to Customs to Avoid Seizure

If you are trying to avoid having your money seized by Customs, take some advice from a customs lawyer: do not throw your money at the customs officer, swear at him, and then tell him to count himself. You will get your money seized.

While this seems obvious and not something you need the advice of a customs lawyer to figure out, apparently it is not obvious to some people who get their money seized by customs.

In the case of United States v Six Thousand, Two Hundred & Fifty Dollars, etc., in United States Currency, 706 F.2d 1195 (11th Cir. 1983), the Court had to decide whether or not someone had made the required declaration of currency being transported into the United States in a unique set of circumstances, as related below:

On February 22, 1980, at approximately 12:30 a.m., United States Customs Patrol officers (“CPO’s”) observed a vessel entering the inlet at Port Everglades, Florida. The vessel was proceeding without running lights and had no visible name or registration number. The CPO’s hailed the vessel, and ¬†. . . Gerald Smith, identified himself as the captain and informed the CPO’s that the vessel was entering the United States from Nassau,¬†Bahamas.

Warning Border Crossing Sign[ . . . ]

CPO Hill observed a small leather purse under Smith’s arm. CPO Hill asked Smith what was in the purse. Smith did not respond to Hill’s question, but simply took the purse from underneath his arm and clutched it in his hand. CPO Hill then informed Smith that if he was carrying more than $5,000 in currency or negotiable instruments into or out of the United States, he had¬†to report the monetary instruments to Customs. CPO¬†Hill also briefly explained that it was not against the law¬†to transport currency or negotiable instruments into or out¬†of the United States, but that it was against the law not to¬†report the monetary instruments to Customs. Smith did¬†not respond to these statements; instead, he simply glared¬†at CPO Hill. CPO Hill then repeated his statements¬†regarding the reporting requirements and asked Smith if¬†he could examine the purse that Smith was carrying.¬†Smith responded by throwing the purse in the direction of¬†CPO Hill and stating that if CPO Hill wanted to know¬†how much was in the purse, he should count it himself.

CPO Hill opened the purse and immediately observed that it contained a sizable quantity of currency. CPO Hill then advised Smith again of the reporting requirements. Smith responded with a string of obscenities directed at CPO Hill.

It turned out there was $6,250 in this man’s purse, which back then, was over the former $5,000+ reporting requirement (note: the reporting requirement is over $10,000 now). These facts leave a lot of unanswered questions. Was the Customs officer really so persistent in explaining the reporting requirements in such a chance encounter? I doubt it. And why was the man have such a bad day, and carrying a purse?

But, those are questions I may never know…. the Court only had to answer whether or not throwing the money at the customs officer (“physical presentation” in the court’s words) satisfied the requirement to file the currency report. The court determined that physical presentation of the money did not satisfy the requirement to file a currency report to avoid seizure because physical presentation is not required: filing a report is the requirement, and the two are not equal. The court also stated that the man with the purse should have filed a currency report because the seizing customs officer told him about the requirement on two occasions during the currency seizure encounter.

So, let this be a lesson to anyone transporting currency into our out of the United States; physical presentation is not enough; nor is swearing at a CBPO a good idea, especially if you’ve got some money to lose.