Customs bulk cash smuggling seizure occurs when cash is “smuggled” – meaning cash hidden or concealed – into or out of the United States if it was concealed to avoid filing a report of international transportation of currency or monetary instruments (FinCen 105). It is parallel to a structuring offense, which also seeks to avoid filing the currency report.
What is bulk cash smuggling?
Bulk cash smuggling is more sinister name for what could more generally be called “bulk monetary instrument smuggling” because the same law makes smuggling of “monetary instruments” illegal, too. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a lot of information on what is bulk cash smuggling and how it is harmful at http://www.ice.gov/bulk-cash-smuggling-center/faq/.
The bulk cash smuggling law makes it illegal to (1) conceal currency or monetary instruments, with (2) an intent 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).
The law says that the bulk smuggling of cash can be done by hiding cash or its equivalent on your person (including in clothing, like a jacket or wallet), in luggage, a backpack, with or inside merchandise, a vehicle, or any other “container,” whether worn or carried by the person transporting the cash or monetary instruments. 31 USC § 5332(a)(2).
Like structuring and failure to report, Customs can seize and forfeit smuggled bulk cash, with or without bringing criminal charges. The crime of bulk cash smuggling is punishable by not more than 5 years, among other sanctions. 31 USC § 5332(b).
Each of the 3 elements to the crime of bulk cash smuggling 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 hide your money from Customs.
Why do people bulk smuggle cash?
Most people think only bad people bulk smuggle cash and that it is easy to recognize. For example, hiding cash inside a secret compartment in a car or truck, or sewing cash into the lining of luggage, or stuffing money into a woman’s bra is clearly bulk cash smuggling. But, along with a failure to report, concealing the money in any way can cause a customs cash seizure for bulk cash smuggling.
The bulk cash smuggling law is broad, and so customs can interpret it liberally, to seize cash.
People bulk smuggle cash for perfectly legitimate reasons, but when they fail to report and/or deny carrying a certain amount of money more than $10,000, they can quickly become guilty or responsible of a bulk cash smuggling violation and get the “bulk cash” seized.
How do people get in trouble for bulk cash smuggling seizure?
There are innocent actions that could cause customs conduct a bulk cash smuggling seizure when there is also failure to report: such as transporting cash in a money belt under your clothing, or having cash stored in envelopes in different pieces of luggage or different locations. This is especially true when there are repeated denials from the traveler to Customs about having less than $10,000, or less money than Customs ultimately finds.
For instance, it could be safer for a traveler to divide money up into different pieces of baggage to protect against the risk that one bag will be lost or stolen during a long or dangerous trip overseas. It even might make sense to sew cash into your pockets to prevent it from falling out while sleeping on a long overnight flight. But these actions carry with a very significant risk of currency seizure if the money is not accurately and timely reported.
What are the penalties for bulk cash smuggling seizure?
There are both criminal and civil penalties for bulk cash smuggling seizure violations, but not everyone is charged criminally. Your money can be seized & forfeited (lost), and you can be fined without ever being found guilty of the crime of bulk cash smuggling. The criminal consequences are severe. Bulk cash smuggling can result in forfeiture (loss) of the money and imprisonment for 5 years.
The civil consequences of bulk cash smuggling are forfeiture of the money. In addition, the violator will probably experience searches, detentions, questioning, and possible seizures when traveling internationally in the future. This is because a record will be generated in the databases used by Homeland Security and U.S. Customs & Border Protection to screen international travelers.
A further danger with bulk cash smuggling is the very high rate of civil and criminal forfeiture (loss) that is typically anywhere from 50% to 100% of the amount seized, depending on the circumstances. Customs has unpublished mitigation guidelines for bulk cash smuggling cases that are not available to the general public. We have them and can use them to your advantage in your bulk cash smuggling seizure case.
What is the statute of limitations for bulk cash smuggling?
The statute of limitations for bulk cash smuggling to bring criminal charges is 5 years from the date of the violation. If you are not arrested at the time the cash was seized and the U.S. Attorney was notified and declined to prosecute you, you probably will not face criminal charges unless customs uncovers additional evidence that the cash is derived from illegal sources or had an illegal intended use.
The statute of limitations for bulk cash smuggling for a civil money penalty is 6 years from the date of the violation. If the penalty is not paid, the government has 2 years from the date the penalty was assessed or the date the judgment in a related criminal action becomes final, whichever is later.
There are also other violations which derive from bulk cash smuggling, such as structuring and failure to report.