💸Customs Cash Seizure for Structuring

A customs cash seizure for structuring is when a person has divided more than $10,000 upon import or export of money or its equivalents to avoid report the cash under 31 USC § 5316, or to import or export less than $10,000, by one or more persons or one or more occasions. Yes, that’s right; illegal cash structuring also “includes . . . the conduct of a transaction . . . below $10,000” if the intent is to evade the reporting requirement. So customs can seize money, in some limited situations, if carrying less than $10,000.

Structuring is parallel to a bulk cash smuggling offense, which also is a way people use to avoid filing the currency report that results that results in a customs money seizure.

Why structure a currency transaction?

People structure a currency transaction because transporting more than $10,000 requires a report be filed. So someone who wants to avoid filing the report of money may believe they can avoid the reporting requirement by making two or more of transactions of $10,000 or less, or by a single transaction of less than $10,000. This is called “structuring” and is illegal under § 5324(c)(3) and 31 CFR § 1010.314.

Structuring a currency transaction can be done by anyone and is seemingly innocently (in fact, many people unknowingly admit to this crime when stopped by CBP). The dividing of money is not necessarily part of a criminal enterprise designed to move cash across the border undetected. But structuring is illegal even if not related to other criminal activity, as some people don’t want to report cash to avoid delay at the airport or because they wrongly think that more than $10,000 cash or its equivalent will be taxed.

But it does not matter if you have good reasons or not for structuring the cash transaction if one reason is to evade reporting currency. That makes it illegal, period. Conversely, doing so for any reason other than avoiding the reporting requirement is legal. But be warned, the burden is on you to show you had legitimate intent only after your money is seized.

What are examples of structuring a currency transaction?

Examples of structuring a currency transaction might be a person who wants to get $18,000 to India without reporting the cash to customs. But, you cannot transport $18,000 from the India to the U.S. by dividing the money into amounts less than $10,000 if the purpose is to not have to report the cash. It doesn’t matter if this is done over several days, months or even longer, it’s all illegal structuring.

Even if the people taking $18,000 to India are husband and wife, they cannot divide the money to not report the cash to CBP. For example, if the husband carries $9,000 cash in his baggage and gives his wife $9,000 in traveler’s checks to carry in her purse so he does not have to file a report of international transportation of currency or monetary instruments (FinCEN 105), he has just committed a crime.

Ignorance of the law against structuring a currency transaction is no excuse. And if the husband or wife do not know it is illegal either may freely admit (or even boast) that the money was divided to avoid making the report (to avoid missing a flight, for example). But in admitting structuring a currency transaction they admit to committing a serious federal crime punishable by 5 years in jail!

A less obvious example is common. Perhaps an individual traveling to the United States alone from China considers bringing $10,500, but after finding out he will have to report it in the United States, decides to take only $9,990 with him. Upon arrival in the United States, customs searches him suspecting he has more than $10,000. They ask him, “Why didn’t you take more than $10,000 with you?” He responds, “I didn’t want to have to report it.” This too, is structuring, even though no more than $10,000 is transported, because he carried less currency avoid having to report the cash to Customs.

What are the criminal and civil penalties for structuring currency?

There are both criminal and civil penalties for structuring currency 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 structuring currency.

The civil penalties for structuring currency are forfeiture of the money and a possible civil penalty not “more than the amount of the monetary instrument for which the report was required.” 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.

The criminal penalties for structuring currency are severe. A person can be fined and can get jail time for up to 5 years. The possible criminal penalties are doubled when for an aggravated currency structuring case where there is “a pattern of any illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period.”

A further danger with currency structuring is the very high rate of civil and criminal forfeiture to typically anywhere from 50% to 100% of the amount seized, depending on the circumstances.  Customs has unpublished mitigation guidelines for currency structuring cases that are not available to the general public. We have them and can use them to your advantage in your currency structuring customs seizure case.

What is the statute of limitations for currency structuring?

The criminal statute of limitations for currency structuring is 5 years from the date of the violation. If you are not arrested at the time the structured 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 structured currency is derived from illegal sources or had an illegal intended use.

The civil statute of limitations for currency structuring is 6 years from the date of the violation. If the money penalty is not paid, the government has 2 years from the date the civil 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 currency structuring, such as failure to report and bulk cash smuggling.