Count every penny before you go to the airport

Customs agents can steal your money if you don’t report it accurately.

The traveler, a U.S. citizen male who CBP is not identifying because he was not criminally charged, verbally reported to officers that he possessed $20,000 and completed a U.S. Treasury Department form for his reported amount. During a baggage examination, CBP officers discovered a total of $33,868. Officers seized the currency and released the traveler.

OK, there is such a crime as structuring, when you play games with bank deposits and withdrawals to avoid reporting large sums that might be taxable, or suggestive of criminal activity — that’s what got Kent Hovind sent to prison for 10 years. That’s naughty. It’s a red flag. So it’s fair to regard under-reporting with suspicion.

But note: “he was not criminally charged.” They just saw a discrepancy and used that as an excuse to promptly rob this guy in plain sight. Maybe he was a bad guy, we don’t know, because there was no investigation and no trial — for all we know, US Customs just ruined a man’s vacation on a whim. They make no other explanation, other than to prominently note that he was going to Egypt, one of those Islamic nations, so Republicans will assume he’s fair game.


  1. says

    I can’t think of a single legitimate reason to travel with that much cash. You want money from point A to point B? The banks can handle that and take care of any taxes along the way. 33 grand in cash? You’re either buying drugs, weapons or people. I’m not a world traveler so I wouldn’t know, but that sounds like a very expensive “vacation”. I really can’t consider this theft at this point. If they had a legit reason to be moving that money that way they can sue for appeal and restitution, but my guess is that it was dirty money that was being used for less than good things.

  2. thewolf says

    that man was bringing that money to his family, would be my guess. that’s really shitty, whatever his reasoning for having that much cash. or maybe, he’s buying gold for some of his friends–i was tasked with this sometimes; it was for traditional weddings where the bride wore 22K rose gold coins. but i still think it’s to support family.

  3. says

    Ray: If there was a legit problem with carrying that much money (which is… a questionable assertion), the point is: why didn’t they charge him with something? That lack undermines the whole idea that CBP was acting legitimately. Either they should have charged him, or they should have let him keep the money (possibly less a small — and documented — fine).

  4. says

    Ray Ceeya writes:

    I can’t think of a single legitimate reason to travel with that much cash. You want money from point A to point B? The banks can handle that and take care of any taxes along the way. 33 grand in cash?

    You can’t think of such a reason but, apparently, the US government does not assume, a priori that such a reason does not exist (or doesn’t care); since he could have been carrying 330 grand and it wouldn’t have been a crime (just like the existence of the 33 grand, by itself, also isn’t one).

    The crime was in the misreporting. Note that, nevertheless, there’s no legal process involved here as there are no formal legal charges filed.

    What I don’t understand is, if the $13000 of under-reporting was the crime, how are they able to seize the whole $33000? What’s the argument for seizing the reported $20000?

    If they can do that, why stop there? Why not also seize his luggage? Why not also seize his bank accounts while they are at it? I mean, other than the fact that this is US Customs that we are talking about here & they have, traditionally, been able to get away with things that we generally don’t allow in other law enforcement agencies?

  5. raven says

    I can’t think of a single legitimate reason to travel with that much cash.

    Not relevant.

    .1. Under US law, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
    There was no evidence that this man was committing a crime and he wasn’t charged much less convicted.
    .2. There was no Due Process here.
    No court hearing with a judge and lawyers.
    The CPB just took the money. I hope they at least gave him a receipt so he can appeal it later.

    This is something that would happen in Russia or Texas.
    The issue here is Rule of Law, a property of civilized nations.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Asset forfeiture has been misused as a racket by US authorities for decades to legally steal money.
    I heard about it in 60 Minutes a quarter of a century ago about how a farmer on his way on a plane to a cattle auction brought along thousands of dollars in cash and got it impounded without any court order.
    Canadian tourists writing flashy cars are often victimised by highway cops because they are easier to intimidate to sign papers that make it impossible for them to get back the car.
    Cops even attend courses where they are taught which kind of cars they should target, since they provide more money when they are auctioned off.
    You will notice neither party has chosen to abolish this legalised theft as it is excused as part of the war against crime. The innocent victims can usually not afford the lawyers needed to get their stuff back, so from the viewpoint of the US politicians there is no problem.
    This is reason # 2000 I utterly despise the American system and has no intention to travel to US jurisdiction ever. Even being aryan is not safe. Imagine being brown or black when the cops take notice of you.

  7. raven says

    The cops do the same thing in the USA to US residents.
    They frequently stop people, find cash, and take it.

    There have been attempts to stop this license to steal practice.

    How a trip to buy farmland ended with police taking all his cash › news › us-news › highway…

    Oct 16, 2021 — Oklahoma cops seized more than $100000 from two men who are fighting to get it back in a case that highlights the controversial practice of …


    Cops Use Traffic Stops To Seize Millions From Drivers Never … › instituteforjustice › 2014/03/12

    Mar 12, 2014 — Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize property (including cash and cars) without having to prove the owners are guilty.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Raven @ 5
    Under US law, foreigners can be abused like hell. Undocumented immigrants have died in custody without medical assistance, and the abuse of asylum seekers that were deported from USA just before Biden took over has gone unpunished, as the abusers knew it would.

  9. says

    @1 It doesn’t matter if you believe it is legitimate or note; we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Seizure laws are corrupt and not used the way they are supposed to. I have seen it as an auditor who audited local police departments for my state.

    The idea of restricting cash is bogus, if its your cash you should be allowed to do what you want, when you want with it.

  10. raven says

    It isn’t a good idea to travel anywhere with a large amount of cash.
    Forget robbers, the main hazard is likely to be…the police.

    Some people just do it because they don’t trust banks, or they are party to a transaction where the seller wants cash. This is common and it has happened to me more than once.

    Or they don’t even have a bank account.
    That happens a huge amount of time also.
    These days, most banks charge you a monthly fee for a simple checking account unless you have a large balance. $20,000 is a common requirement.
    Poor people can’t afford the monthly fee much less the balance.

    A woman I went to school with couldn’t keep a bank account open.
    She was working poor but her main problem was impulse control and lack of focus. She couldn’t keep track of her bank balance and often ended up writing checks with no money in the account. The bank frequently ended up closing her account.

    Here on the coast, there is a constant stream of temporary migrant workers coming up from Mexico to plant trees during the winter and do farm work and harvesting during the summer.
    They make some money and then go back to Mexico.
    These aren’t sophisticated people. Often they are Native Americans who don’t even speak Spanish much less English, (mostly Mayan and Mixtec, etc.). They are often illiterate.
    And it happens. They pick vegetables all summer, take their pay, and the cops seize it on their way back to Oaxaca or Yucatan.

  11. says

    Civil forfeiture is literal highway robbery most of the time.and probably won’t be going away any time soon as long as people insist that cops need a crapload of funding but are loathe to pay taxes.

  12. says

    @9. etc, He can still sue to reclaim his money if it is actually his. I still say there’s something fishy going on. All he had to do is file the paperwork properly and pay whatever taxes are involved, but he didn’t. There is legal recourse. If it was for legal reasons, why not use a simple wire transfer? Even for that much money, Western Union is only going to charge about $100. And that’s the high end. Bank to Bank is even less. You don’t move big briefcases of money unless you’re hiding something.

    Honestly, how would someone who had that much money on hand NOT KNOW THAT?

  13. IX-103, the ■■■■ing idiot says

    @12: But it’s still a violation of due process.
    “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
    Allowing him to sue to get the money back doesn’t qualify. That’s a process to get the property back, not a process for the state to take it away.
    Putting the onus on the individual to prove why they should be allowed to recover their property is unconstitutional. The onus should be on the state to show want it should deprive an individual of their property.

  14. christoph says

    @Raven, #7: That scam should be illegal, but somehow it isn’t. Here’s another scam some police departments pull: When someone comes to post bail for a friend or family member, the cops insist they bring cash (which you don’t have to do, a bank check or money order is sufficient). They’ll take the cash and test it for traces of cocaine, and since most if not all bills carry a small trace of cocaine they’ll confiscate the money.
    I’m really surprised no one has responded to these tactics with violence yet. It’s infuriating.

  15. specialffrog says

    Apparently in the US law enforcement now steal more money than burglars through this kind of procedure.

  16. birgerjohansson says

    “Wage theft” by employers is stealing more money than traditional theft. This goes on because workers in USA generally do not have the legal muscle to push back. Wage theft is particularly common in blue-collar low-wage jobs like McDonalds.

  17. Chakat Firepaw says

    Seizure in this sort of case is generally temporary, if there is no criminal activity the person gets the money back as soon as the fine is paid, (failure to report is generally handled with a civil, not a criminal, penalty). Unless something more is going on, he won’t even have to sue.

  18. jrkrideau says

    @1 Ray Ceeya
    “I can’t think of a single legitimate reason to travel with that much cash. You want money from point A to point B?”

    Could be any number of reasons if you are going to Egypt or other parts of the Middle East. Not the best way to carry it,, one of those informal banking firms would likely be better but he may have felt he needed cash in a hurry for a business deal or even a bribe. Emergency dowry?

  19. acroyear says

    Cops love to catch people on I-40 and historic rt 66 all the time. Most big-stakes poker games in Vegas are cash only (credit cards have policies against using them for gambling debt, and banks won’t transfer that much behind the scenes for personal things (rather than business expenses) without a lot of notary and/or other middlemen taking a percentage cut.

    So the cops will randomly pull over nice-looking cars searching for “cash that might be involved in a crime” and take the $20,000 they find.