Category: News

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. This is generally not the best way to get money back. 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.

Did the government file a complaint for forfeiture?

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 by not filing a complaint for forfeiture. The way the plaintiff’s attorneys read the law (which so far, I agree with), this means CBP must return the money, immediately. Instead of doing that, CBP asked her to sign a hold harmless and release agreement that gave up her right to sue the government for seizure, and anything incidental (interest, emotional distress, etc.).

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 they 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 then pretty obviously legitimately derived money.

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 see no reason to start filing claims instead of petitions 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 others are 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.

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.


U.S. CBP seized cash hidden in a shipping container at the San Juan, Puerto Rico seaport.

CBP Seizes $29,000 Smuggled at San Juan

A few weeks back, CBP announced another recent seizure of unreported cash at the San Juan seaport in a shipment of cargo containers. A customs cash seizure in Puerto Rico also happened back in May. The story makes the same curiously absent identification of the event as being an incident of bulk cash smuggling, not just a failure to report.

In this case, the seizure of cash happened when U.S. Customs & Border Protection offciers were examining cargo containers and discovered some anomalies (presumably when imaging) a 55 gallon drum. The cash was destined for the Dominican Republic, as below:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers from the Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team (A-TCET) seized approximately $29,000 in unreported currency in an outbound enforcement action at the San Juan Seaport.

The interception occurred Oct. 21 while CBP officers were examining cargo containers at a CBP facility.  CBP officers conducted an intensive secondary examination of a container and discovered anomalies on a 55 gallon storage drum. Further examination revealed the hidden currency.  The container was destined to the Dominican Republic.

This is interesting because it again demonstrates that the currency reporting law applies equally to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

Have you had cash seized by CBP in Puerto Rico?

If CBP seized your cash in Puerto Rico, you need a lawyer. That’s what we do. Read our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and can contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

The back of a CBP officer's shirt reading "CBP Federal Officer" in bold yellow letters.

CBP Officer allegedly steals $15,000 from mail

Most CBP officers I’ve encountered ultimately act ethically, even if I occasionally disagree with an overly aggressive approach to certain enforcement measures. But, even one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. In fact, there have been a few bad apples at CBP over the years. You can read about it at Crossing the Line: Corruption at the Border. Note that though I link to it, I don’t necessarily agree with its contents where opinions are offered.

I say this to lead up to a story about a U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer from California who was recently charged with stealing $15,000 worth of checks from a mail facility. The full story is available at, but I’m reproducing a portion here. I’m also redacting the name of the accused because I think it’s only fair.

LOS ANGELES, CA – A longtime U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer from Van Nuys is expected in court Monday to face federal charges alleging he stole checks worth over $15,000 from a mail facility and arranged to have an accomplice deposit them.

[He . . . ] was arrested Tuesday without incident by special agents with the FBI and subsequently released on his own recognizance, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The arrest came after [the accused], who has been a customs officer since 2008, was named in an eight-count indictment returned by a Los Angeles federal grand jury last week.

According to the indictment, [the accused] was assigned to a U.S. Postal Service sorting facility in Torrance, where his duties included examining mail and parcels coming into the country for contraband, counterfeit goods, and possible fraudulent financial checks or credit cards.

The [accused] allegedly stole mail that contained traveler’s checks and third- party checks, giving the stolen checks to an accomplice who deposited them into accounts at Bank of America, prosecutors said.

“Americans must be able to trust officials handling their mail which conveys highly valuable information, to include our identification and financial data,” said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. “The FBI is committed to holding accountable those, like [the accused], who abuse their positions of trust and threaten our security for personal gain.”

We get a lot of calls from people who have sent cash in the mail and have had it seized by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. One time, we also got a call from someone who had cash seized and was contacted by someone who identified themselves as a customs agent and demanded that, in order to release the cash, she send him some money as a “penalty.” The caller said she never received any sort of written notice about the seizure, which sounded awfully suspicious to us at the time.

If you’ve had money seized by U.S. Customs & Border Protection, get a lawyer. You can use our currency seizure legal guide to educate yourself on the process or you can get a free currency seizure consultation and we can discuss the procedures for getting your seized money back.

Why Immigrants Have So Much Cash

I have always had a great respect for immigrants. Half of my my family – wife included – were either born or live overseas, and the vast majority of my law firm’s clients are also immigrants to the United States or are foreign-born and permanently live overseas. So if I didn’t like and respect immigrants, I’d be pretty miserable. But, lucky for me, I’m quite happy.

As a natural born U.S. citizen, of course, I usually think like an American. If I don’t always think like an American, I at least understand how most Americans would think on any particular topic. So when I talk about my work with currency seizures by Customs — about people traveling with more than $10,000 cash — most Americans are incredulous.

They ask, “Why travel with so much cash?” “Where do they get the money?” and “HOW did they save so much cash?” Most Americans consider it suspicious, and unlikely.

Conversely, many of my (immigrant/foreign born) client’s will say things like, “It’s not a lot of money!” with all seriousness. I’ve also had clients tell me they just don’t feel comfortable unless they have at least $10,000 on them when they travel. And I’ve had clients say sarcastically, “Is $10,000 a lot of money?”

So my point is: many (most) immigrants and foreign-born are as surprised as Americans are about saving and traveling with so much cash as are Americans thinking $10,000 or more is a lot of money to save.

Why do I mention this? The foregoing is just a segue into my introducing a news story about how most Americans could not even come up with $1,000 in cash to cover an emergency, which is available here in full. I quote the introduction here:

NEW YORK (AP) — Two-thirds of Americans would have difficulty coming up with the money to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to an exclusive poll released Thursday, a signal that despite years of recovery from the Great Recession, Americans’ financial conditions remain precarious as ever.

These financial difficulties span all income levels, according to the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Seventy-five percent of people in households making less than $50,000 a year would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill. But when income rose to between $50,000 and $100,000, the difficulty decreased only modestly to 67 percent.

Even for the country’s wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.

In other articles on this topic, we wrote about how Americans might not flinch about having $10,000 in debt! Read Targeted Enforcement for Customs Money Seizure.


Picture of what the cash seized at Dulles airport looked similar to.

Cash seized at Dulles airport by CBP

A Chinese traveler had cash seized at Dulles airport, again, last week. This time it was $20,377, instead of $16,000 in cash seized by CBP there last week.

Dulles airport CBP seems to be on a roll. This story has the man reporting $10,000, but carrying $20,377 on his person and in his luggage. In addition to the failure to report, that failure to report combined with the presence of the money in the luggage could be the basis for an allegation of bulk cash smuggling.

Here’s the story about the cash seized at Dulles airport last week (as told by CBP):

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Office of Field Operations (OFO), at Washington Dulles International Airport seized $20,377 Monday from a Chinese citizen for violating federal currency reporting regulations.

The man, who arrived on a flight from China, declared to CBP officers that he was carrying $10,000 and completed a financial form reporting the same. However; CBP officers discovered a total of $20,377 on his person and in his luggage. CBP officers seized the $20,377 and advised him how to petition for the return of the rest of the currency.

Always remember, legitimate source and legitimate use of the seized cash must be proven before Customs is legally required to consider returning the money. The types of documentation that is needed to prove this varies in every situation, and documentation should only be provided to CBP after

Picture of what the cash seized at Dulles airport looked similar to.
A Chinese citizen had cash seized at Dulles airport.

consultation with an attorney (here’s why). A customs lawyer will have a much better chance at getting your cash returned than doing it on your own.

If you’ve had cash seized at Dulles airport, or another airport, you can learn more from our trusted legal road-map of a customs money seizure and can contact us for a free currency seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

A pile of $20 bills on a table.

$16k Dulles Airport Currency Seizure by CBP

A Dulles airport currency seizure of $16,000 by CBP was reported by Customs this week. The seizure

A pile of $20 bills on a table, similar to the Dulles airport currency seizure case mentioned in this article
A Dulles airport currency seizure resulted in the seizure of $16,000 by CBP.

occurred last Thursday, when a woman traveling to Ghana was stopped and searched by Customs when she failed to report traveling with $6,951 more than she had.

According to the story, the currency was found in both her luggage and on her person; CBP may use this as a basis to allege not only a failure to report, but also bulk cash smuggling. If Dulles alleges bulk cash smuggling as reason they seized the money in the notice of seizure, this lady will almost certainly be looking at a huge loss of money as a penalty, even if she can prove it came from a legitimate source and had a legitimate intended use. This is because bulk cash smuggling permits Customs to keep more of the money as a penalty.

Here is the excerpt from the full Customs Dulles airport currency seizure story:

A woman boarding a flight to Ghana was selected for questioning by CBP officers who were conducting an outbound enforcement operation on an international flight. The woman completed a financial form, reporting $10,000, however; a total of $16,951 in U.S. and foreign currency was discovered on her person and in her luggage. CBP officers seized the $16,951, returned the equivalent of $192 in foreign currency as humanitarian relief, and advised her how to petition for the return of the rest of the currency.

As I’ve said before, don’t take legal advice from Customs. Depending on the source of the money and the circumstances of the seizure filing an administrative petition might not be her best option; it could be that filing a claim, making an offer in compromise, or filing a petition in the federal court are the best options. If you’ve experienced a Customs Dulles airport currency seizure use our trusted legal road-map of a customs money seizure or contact us for a free currency seizure consultation!

U.S. Currency Seized by CBP Wrapped In Rubber Bands and Black Plastic on a Table

Unreported Bulk Cash of $112k Seized by CBP

Nearly $112,000 in unreported bulk cash was seized by U.S. Customs (CBP) officers from a U.S. citizen heading into Mexico last week. In its news releases CBP almost always calls the seized cash “unreported” or “undeclared” even when its apparently hidden for the purpose of evading the requirement to report more than $10,000 in cash to Customs. But this news release correctly calls it unreported bulk cash because it was was found “hidden within the vehicle.”

Unreported bulk cash seized by CBP wrapped in rubber bands and black plastic
Bundles of unreported bulk cash seized by CBP at the Brownsville port of entry wrapped in black plastic

The seizure took place on Wednesday, Dec. 2, when CBP officers working at the Brownsville and Matamoros International Bridge came in contact with a black 2007 Chevy Tahoe as it attempted to exit the United States into Mexico. The driver, a 25-year-old male United States citizen from Brownsville, Texas, was selected for a routine outbound inspection. CBP officers referred the vehicle to secondary for further inspection. During the examination, CBP officers utilized a non-intrusive imaging system and detected anomalies within the vehicle. A physical search of the Chevy Tahoe resulted in the discovery of multiple packages of bulk U.S. currency totaling $111,456 hidden within the vehicle.

This is classic unreported bulk cash smuggling laws, and as we explain in that article on the topic, means that even if legitimate intended source and use of the money are proven, a very high rate of forfeiture will apply; meaning that in the best case scenario the unreported bulk cash smuggler will get 50% of his money back from Customs, and at worst, 0%.

Unreported bulk cash consequences

In unreported bulk cash smuggling cases a person may face criminal charges, or may just face civil forfeiture and civil monetary penalties for the violation. If you have had unreported bulk cash seized by Customs, get your free currency seizure consultation.

Laredo CBP Seizes $266,000 in Currency

This Laredo Customs currency seizure story proves that everything is bigger in Texas. In this case, Customs seized $266,000 in what they call unreported currency from a 22 year old heading south into Mexico. This story reveals more than just a failure to report, but also bulk cash smuggling, which is the intentional concealing of the money with the intent to evade the reporting requirement. Obviously, if it was only after an “intensive secondary examination” that “packages within the vehicle” were discovered then there was some attempt made to conceal the currency; we can thus logically presume that it was done for the purpose of it not being discovered by Customs so it would not have to be reported. Here is the story (full version here):

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and agents at the Laredo Port of Entry seized $266,000 in unreported currency in an outbound enforcement action this weekend at the Gateway to the Americas Bridge.

“Our outbound team maintained their vigilance, utilized their keen inspection skills and seized a significant load of unreported currency,” said Port Director Joseph Misenhelter, Laredo Port of Entry.  “Seizures of unreported currency like this one remove the profit potential from possible illicit activity and help advance our border security mission.”

The interception occurred on Saturday, Sept. 12 while CBP officers and Border Patrol agents conducting outbound (southbound) inspections at the international bridge referred a 2007 Chevy Equinox driven by a 22-year-old U.S. citizen from Dallas, Texas for a secondary inspection.  CBP officers conducted an intensive secondary examination of the vehicle and discovered packages within the vehicle that contained $266,000 in unreported currency.

CBP officers seized the currency and the Chevy Equinox.  The driver was turned over by CBP officers to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents for further investigation.

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.

If you have had currency seized from Customs do not try to respond yourself but hire our firm, because we know what we are doing and have successfully handled many cases like yours. If you have questions, please give us a call at (734) 855-4999

CBP Seizes Passenger’s Fake Designer Wallets

U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a large amount of counterfeit wallets from a traveler that was arriving from Japan. To the best of my knowledge, it is a pretty rare occurrence when Customs encounters somebody who is traveling from overseas with a lot of counterfeit items. Usually it would be sent through commercial means.

Typically, counterfeit importations are just subject to seizure. In other words, the ‘penalty’ is loss of the goods through government seizure and forfeiture. However, Customs can impose monetary penalties under 19 USC 1526(f) on “any person who directs, assists … aids and abets [in] the importation of merchandise for sale or public distribution” once the property is seized.

By bringing in such a large quantity of counterfeits this person may have exposed themselves to a monetary penalty (the equivalent of the MSRP of these items, if they were genuine) because Customs may presume that the large quantities means that is must have been intended for sale or public distribution. It could be that it was meant for public sale or distribution, or it could just be that all these articles were intended for personal use and the buyer just got carried away with buying them. Here’s the story:

A few of the counterfeit Burberry wallet seized assets by CBP.
A few of the counterfeit Burberry wallet seized assets by customs.

DALLAS – U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport seized counterfeit Louis Vuitton and Burberry wallets, valued at $32,000. The items were seized Aug. 4 and destined for Ruston, Louisiana.

CBP officers conducted an inspection of a passenger arriving from Narita, Japan with checked bags. During the inspection, officers discovered 58 brand-named wallets that appeared to be counterfeit. The traveler admitted the items he packed were counterfeit. The items did not appear to be of the quality consistent with legitimate goods as the items included unusual labeling and the markings on the wallets were not manufactured by the trademark holders.
Counterfeit Burberry wallets were among those seized from a traveler’s suitcase.

Louis Vuitton counterfeits were also seized by customs.
Louis Vuitton counterfeits were also seized by customs. The combined value totaled at $32.

“Packing counterfeit merchandise in suitcases doesn’t release passengers from their obligation to adhere to U.S. import laws,” said Dallas CBP Port Director Cleatus Hunt. “This seizure protects the trademark holder, their businesses and their employees and denies the counterfeiter from reaping profits from the sale of illegitimate goods.”

On a typical day in fiscal year 2014, CBP officers around the country seized more than $3.4 million worth of products because of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) violations. Since 2007, CBP identified IPR enforcement as a priority trade mission. For additional statistics and a list of the most popular counterfeit items and their worth visit the fiscal year 2014 IPR report.

You might be facing penalties from customs for importing counterfeit merchandise. We can help. Typically, we recommended preparing and filing a petition, with the assistance of legal counsel, which argues persuasively for the substantial mitigation, or when the facts and law warrant it, cancellation of the penalty in full.

Great Lakes Customs Law has been very successful in getting these kinds of penalties reduced and, sometimes, even eliminated entirely (some history of our success is HERE).If you have had merchandise seized by customs because they allege it is counterfeit and contains trademark violations and/or have a received a notice of penalty for importing alleged counterfeits or for making an importation contrary to law, 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 petitions for customs penalties and seizures around the country, including Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places. Please read these other articles: