Tag: cash reporting requirement

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.

CBP Seizes $559,000 in Arizona

CBP seized more than a half-million dollars from a 37 year old Mexican man who had hid the cash in the spare tire of his truck when crossing the border from the United States to Mexico, CBP reports. Hiding the cash is bulk cash smuggling. The contains a somewhat odd and misleading statement about how the government brings criminal charges, more on that below this story:

TUCSON, Ariz. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Arizona’s Port of San Luis arrested a Mexican national after seizing more than $559,000 in undeclared currency.

Officers performing outbound inspections referred the 37-year-old man Thursday afternoon, when a search of his Chevy truck led to the discovery of packages inside of his spare tire. A count of the cash totaled more than $559,290.

Customs and Border Protection officers seized the currency, and turned the subject over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Federal law allows officers to charge individuals by complaint, a method that allows the filing of charges for criminal activity without inferring guilt. An individual is presumed innocent unless and until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The last paragraph contains the odd statements. Federal law does allow the use of complaint to file criminal charges, but without “inferring guilt”? My dictionary tells me “inferring” means to “deduce or conclude (information) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements”. That doesn’t make sense; I think what they meant to say was that a complaint can be filed, and by the filing of the complaint, the subject of the criminal investigation is “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The statement goes on to say that, sort of, but instead of saying “until proven guilty” it says “until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” The problem here is that evidence must be not only presented, but it is up for the jury to make the determination that the evidence is enough to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And I’m not sure about the use of the term “competent” evidence; generally speaking, for evidence to even be submitted to a jury it must be relevant and issues of “competence” would, to my mind, only apply to individuals giving testimony. If someone is not competent to testify (due to insanity, minority, etc.), they would not be allowed to testify and therefore not have that testimony heard by the jury.

 

 

A CBP officer conducts a primary inspection at the SENTRI lane at Hidalgo International Bridge.

CBP seizes $11,00 from Trusted Traveler participant

Recently, CBP in Texas seized almost $11,000 from a “trusted traveler” who hid the money in her purse, in what sounds like it might be a bulk cash smuggling violation. I get several clients who have had money or undeclared goods seized, and who are members of trusted traveler programs, and are upset to find out that they are losing their trust traveler privileges. CBP has recently published a compilations of reasons people have been denied or had Global Entry revoked available here.

As this article somewhat explains, participation in these programs is a privilege, not a right; it is based on CBP’s determination that you are a low risk. If you demonstrate that you are no longer a low risk by not declaring goods or cash, then you will lose the privilege. The full story is available here, but it is edited for clarity by yours truly, as follows:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations (OFO) at the Hidalgo International Bridge recently seized $10,652 in unreported U.S. currency from a Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) member utilizing the trusted traveler lane.

On March 2, CBP officers at the Hidalgo International Bridge conducting inspections at the SENTRI lane selected a 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe for further inspection. The vehicle was driven by a 40-year-old female United States citizen from Pharr, TX. During the secondary search, officers discovered a total of $10,652 in unreported U.S. currency concealed throughout the woman’s purse.

CBP OFO seized the currency and revoked the woman’s SENTRI privileges. The case remains under investigation by Homeland Security Investigations special agents.

“CBP would like to remind the traveling public that SENTRI is a trusted traveler program, and any violations of program rules, such as non-declaration of currency in excess of $10,000, can lead to permanent revocation of SENTRI privileges,” said Port Director Carlos Rodriguez, Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas Port of Entry. “SENTRI members have demonstrated that they are low-risk travelers, and should be reminded that they are not exempt from inspection and more importantly, that violations of customs, immigration, agriculture laws and federal currency reporting requirements can lead to suspension from the program.”

SENTRI is a trusted traveler program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. via a dedicated lane. Participants must undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview.

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.

Have you had cash or goods seized by CBP?

If you had cash or goods seized by CBP and are a trusted traveler, you will lose your trusted traveler status. However, you might still be able to get the seized cash or goods back if you act quickly; contact Great Lakes Customs Law for a consultation to learn what you can do to get your cash and goods back from CBP.

 

An image of cash seized by Customs at Dulles airport while traveling to Ghana

Dulles CBP Seizes $40k Cash Unreported

Dulles continues to be the leading source for news-releases pertaining to cash seizures for more than $10,000 for failure to report to Customs, or bulk cash smuggling, and the related offenses under Title 31 of the United States Code. In this particular story (original here), Customs seized $40,000 from a man who reported traveling with $25,000.

Upon making that report he completed a FinCEN 105 form (probably under some duress) for that same amount. At this point (as they always do), CBP conducted a complete search of his person and baggage to determine if he was telling the truth. As is frequently the case, he was not. In fact, they discovered another $10,000 in a white envelope and another $5,400 in some other places. Here is the full story:

STERLING, Va., — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized $40,900 from a man boarding a flight to Ghana last Thursday at Washington Dulles International Airport.

The man, who CBP has not named because he was not criminally charged, initially reported to officers that he possessed $500.  After officers advised the man of U.S. currency reporting regulations, the man presented three white envelopes that contained $25,000, and reported that much on a financial reporting form.

CBP officers then discovered a manila envelope with $10,000, an additional white envelope in the man’s backpack that contained $5,000, and $400 more in his wallet.  The combined currency equaled $40,900.

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.

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 read our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and contact our customs lawyer for a free cash seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

Detroit Airport Currency Report Sign

CBP Seizure of Cash without Warrant

U.S. Customs & Border Protection can seize cash without a warrant when traveling internationally into or out of the United States if they have probable cause to believe that you violated the cash reporting requirement, the bulk cash smuggling laws, or the structuring laws. Most people know these laws simply as the $10,000 reporting requirement.

Does CBP need a warrant to seize money?

The U.S. Constitution creates an exception to the warrant requirement when you consent to the warrant requirement or when a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy. At the international border, the U.S. Supreme Court has said you have absolutely no reasonable expectation of privacy. Thus, CBP can seize your cash without requiring a warrant if you are at a border or are at an airport and flying into or out of the United States.

Furthermore, as if the interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court were not enough, Congress passed a law giving U.S. Customs & Border Protection the right to search and seize at the border, without a warrant. This appears in Title 31, which is the body of laws governing the federal currency reporting regulations.

31 USC 5316(b) says:

Searches at border. For purposes of ensuring compliance with the requirements of section 5316 [31 USCS § 5316], a customs officer may stop and search, at the border and without a search warrant, any vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other conveyance, any envelope or other container, and any person entering or departing from the United States.

and 5316(c)(2) says…

(2) Civil forfeiture. Any property involved in a violation of section 5313, 5316, or 5324 of this title [31 USCS § 5313, 5316, or 5324], or any conspiracy to commit any such violation, and any property traceable to any such violation or conspiracy, may be seized and forfeited to the United States in accordance with the procedures governing civil forfeitures in money laundering cases pursuant to section 981(a)(1)(A) of title 18, United States Code.

Have you had cash seized by CBP without a warrant?

If you had cash seized by CBP without a warrant, there’s nothing wrong with that from CBP’s perspective. That’s legal, if traveling internationally. But, you still have some chance to get the money back by showing that the money is not connected to illegal activity.

If CBP seized your cash you need a lawyer. 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.

A copy of the notice of seizure and intent to forfeit featuring the case of the incomplete check seized by CBP

Incomplete Checks Seized by CBP in Detroit

On May 10, someone at the land border between Detroit and Canada attempted to bring into or leave the country with a check for $50,000 that was blank – in that it did not have a payee — in other words, the payee in the “pay to the order of” section of the check was blank. That’s what you call an “incomplete instrument” in legal-speak, or we’ll call it an incomplete check for our purposes.

Incomplete checks fall under the general monetary instrument reporting requirements that Customs enforces at all ports of entry through the United States. In fact, incomplete checks are specifically identified as being part of the monetary instruments that must be reported to customs, apart from cash. 31 CFR 1010.100(dd)(iv) states the monetary instruments include ….”incomplete instruments (including personal checks, business checks, official bank checks, cashier’s checks, third-party checks, promissory notes (as that term is defined in the Uniform Commercial Code), and money orders) signed but with the payee’s name omitted“.

So Last Friday, U.S. Customs & Border Protection at the Port of Detroit noticed its seizure and intention to forfeit a check (a/k/a a negotiable instrument) valued at $50,000. The notice is as follows:

PUBLICATION/POSTING START: June 24, 2016
PUBLICATION/POSTING END: July 23, 2016
DEADLINE TO FILE A CLAIM: August 23, 2016

2016380100064801-001-0000, Seized on 05/10/2016; At the port of DETROIT, MI; CHECK (SIGNED WITHOUT PAYEE); 1; EA; Valued at $50,000.00; For violation of 31USC5317, 31USC5316, 31CFR1010.340(A)

I bet this person thought they could get around the reporting requirement by not completing the payee on the check, just like the many people who think they can get around the reporting requirement by dividing the money through structuring.

They might also be under the mistaken impression that they will cancel the check, and CBP will not be able to keep the $50,000. But that is not what happens when CBP seizes a check; after seizure, CBP can “freeze” those funds in the bank account, or by otherwise getting access to the money, and by getting cooperation from the bank itself. Be warned.

Have you had a check seized by CBP?

If you have had a check seized by CBP you can learn more about the process from our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and can contact us for a free currency seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.

Detroit Airport Currency Report Sign

Prepaid Card Seizure & CBP Reporting Requirement

On Forbes the other day, I read an interesting article about prepaid debit cards getting seized.The story is about Oklahoma police, but it discusses how they benefited from some technology developed for use by U.S. Customs & Border Protection in seizing prepaid debit cards. The interesting part of the story is that criminals are increasingly moving money across the border by means of prepaid debit cards; moreover, that these the information contained on the prepaid debit card can also be stored on any card with a magnetic stripe, including a hotel room key.

Truly fascinating, ingenious, and in hindsight, obvious. The story also says that detecting what is stored on these electronic debit cards used to take weeks, but some company called ERAD came up with a better way allowing customs to access the information in seconds. According to ERAD Group:

Even with probable cause, [customs officials] had no way of identifying the card value, freezing the funds or seizing the money at the point of arrest. ERAD-Prepaid™ solved that problem by condensing a process that takes many days, weeks or months into one that takes a few seconds.

This shed some light on to an increasing number of customs seizure press releases that I’ve read that involve people importing things CBP has sometimes called “fradulent gift cards” that contain “personal identity information”. One such story appeared the other day:

On Saturday, CBP officers arrested Ramzi Kadir, a 22-year old male, Mouad Benameur, a 21-year old male, and Abdelhakim Zaier, a 22-year old male, all citizens of Canada, after 13 fraudulent gift cards containing personal identity information were discovered in their possession.  The men and cards were turned over to New York State Police.

So, perhaps cash was not stored on the magnetic stripes but some other personal information was stored. Something nefarious enough to cause CBP to arrest these individuals.

The Forbes piece caused me to wonder, if you’re traveling across the border with a prepaid debit card does it count toward the $10,000 threshold reporting requirement? Do prepaid cards with more than $10,000 have to be reported to CBP to avoid seizure? I think, yeah, probably. Most likely. Certainly, if the law isn’t clear whether it counts or not — to be on the safe side, you should report it to CBP to avoid a potential prepaid card seizure.

For the time being, I do not have time to look into this and provide a definitive legal answer; I’ll save that for paying clients. I can say that the definition of monetary instruments does not explicitly list “prepaid cards” as a category, but it certainly seems to be more like a “bearer instrument,” which is required to be reported.

Recall that things like credit cards and debit cards attached to a traditional bank account do not have to be reported under 31 USC 5316. But the prepaid cards are unique in that they are not attached to a bank account; basically, the money exists on the card and can be accessed at an ATM.

Have you had prepaid cards seized by CBP?

If you had prepaid cards seized by CBP, give us a call and click the contact button on this page to get in touch with us today!

 

U.S. Money Seized by Customs (CBP) Stacked on a Table with Envelopes

CBP Confiscated Cash of $18,000 at Dulles

CBP confiscated cash of $18,000 at Dulles Airport from a family bound for Lebanon. The family verbally reported $12,000 cash to customs, then completed a FinCEN 105 form for $14,100.
Upon inspection, CBP discovered they actually had the equivalent of approximately $18,000, consisting of Euros and U.S. dollars.1
The real issue we want to address in this CBP cash confiscation story is the “verbal report” the family made. The CBP cash reporting regulations state that the cash report shall be filed “at the time of entry into the United States or at the time of departure . . . . with the Customs officer in charge”.
So, if you are stopped and make an accurate report of cash to Customs without filing a written report of cash on FinCEN 105, you’ve already violated the law. So even assuming the verbal report by the Lebanese family was accurate, there would still be a violation of the currency reporting requirement. A report of cash to CBP must be accurate, in writing, and on time! Otherwise, you’ll next person from who CBP confiscated cash.

Here’s the story about how CBP confiscated cash at Dulles:

CBP officers seized $18,592 on Thursday from a Lebanon-bound family for failure to comply with federal currency reporting regulations. A CBP currency canine alerted to the family on the jetway. The family verbally reported $12,000, and then reported $14,100 on a U.S. Treasury Department currency reporting form after a CBP officer explained the law. A baggage inspection revealed several white envelopes that contained a total of $17,428 in U.S. dollars and 1,164 Euros. CBP officers seized the U.S. currency, released the Euros to the family, and then released the family to continue their trip.
If CBP confiscated cash from you, you can learn more from our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and can contact us for a free currency seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.
  1. The story notes that money was in “several white envelopes”, which could lead to allegations of bulk cash smuggling. We’ve talked about bulk cash smuggling in depth; and be forewarned, if Dulles alleges bulk cash smuggling after CBP confiscated cash, you are going to permanently lose a substantial amount of your money. Read about it at $16k Dulles Airport Currency Seizure by CBP or at Cash seized at Dulles airport by CBP or at Dulles Airport Cash Seizure Nets CBP $40K or at Dulles Airport Money Seizure by Customs of $43,015, just to name a few. []