Help! Homeland Security Seized My Cash at the Airport



If you bring a large sum of cash to the airport, it might be discovered as you enter the security checkpoint before boarding your flight. If a TSA screener secretly tips off state or federal law enforcement officers, they might seize the money for forfeiture. 

In fact, over the past two decades, agents with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have seized more than $2 billion in currency at airports in the United States.

For a domestic flight, large amounts of U.S. Currency can be seized for forfeiture without a warrant, but only if law enforcement officers have "probable cause" that the money is involved in illegal activities such as money laundering or drug trafficking.

The evidence supporting the "probable cause" determination must be discovered during a legal detention. Many of these cases, however, involve an illegal detention, interrogation, search, and seizure.

Special rules apply for international flights because travelers with negotiable monetary instruments valued at $10,000 or more must complete a form FinCEN 105, Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments

Any traveler flying into the U.S. is given a customs declaration form that explains the requirement to fill out a FinCEN Form 105. For travelers leaving the United States, no notice is provided that a FinCEN Form 105 must be filed with Customs and Border Protection (CBP),

Even on an international flight, if you failed to file a FinCEN 105 form disclosing $10,000 in cash, an attorney can help you file a claim to get the seized money back.

Attorney Leslie Sammis represents clients through the United States in airport currency seizure cases involving both domestic flights and international flights. 

No matter where your U.S. Currency was seized for forfeiture, Leslie Sammis can help you get it back.

Who Seizes Money at the Airport?


Many bulk cash seizures at airports in the United States, including the Tampa International Airport, involve money taken by law enforcement officers with one of the following agencies:
  • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI);
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP);
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE);
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); or 
  • or local agencies like the Tampa International Airport Police Department (TIAPD).
Federal agents tend to seize larger amounts of money ($20,000 to +$100,000) while local agencies like TIAPD might seize smaller amounts of money ($5,000 to $20,000).

If a federal agent seizes the money, then the federal civil asset forfeiture laws apply. If a local law enforcement officer seizes the money, then state forfeiture laws apply.

Hire an Attorney for Seizures of Cash at Airports in Florida


If the taking of money or other property was improper or illegal under state or federal law, then you should immediately contact an experienced attorney to demand an "early judicial hearing" in federal court to fight for the quick return of your property.

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm can help you file a verified claim for court action immediately after the taking. We can even file the verified claim on the same day Homeland Security seizes the money. 

Filing a verified claim for court action is the ONLY way to contest the legality of the seizure.

The verified claim for court action forces CBP to refer the matter to the United States Attorney Office. The claim for court action triggers a 90-day deadline for the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) to decide whether the seizure was legal.

Hiring an attorney to demand court action is the best way to get the money back quickly.

Attorney Leslie Sammis can take your airport currency seizure case on a contingency basis. That means you don't have to pay any attorney fees or costs unless we recover money.

Leslie Sammis also co-counsels with attorneys across the United States in these types of cases.
Call 813-250-0500 to discuss your case.

Our Recent Victories in Airport Seizure Cases


We fight a lot of these cases. Our recent victories include:

  • $14,826 seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Airport in May of 2020, will be returned by CBP after the AUSA "declined" to file a forfeiture action in court within the 90-day deadline.

  • $16,563 seized by an agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at Tampa International Airport and $16,563 was returned within 4 months in 2020;

  • $159,950 plus interest returned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after a cash seizure at Tampa International Airport within 6 months in 2020 (we alleged that some of the money had gone missing and was never found by the seizing agency);

  • $63,490.00 seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Orlando International Airport, but the entire amount was returned within five months (after a complaint for forfeiture was filed by an AUSA in the U.S. District Court but later dismissed) in 2020;

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) returns $45,001 after airport seizure of $45,001 in Cleveland, Ohio within six months in 2020;

  • DEA seizes $52,620 at the Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and agrees to a full refund within 6 months in 2019;

  • CBP returned $30,000 in 2019 after $30,000 in U.S. Currency Seized at Tampa International Airport;

  • DEA Seized $30,000.00 at an airport in San Francisco but returned $29,375.89 within eight months;

  • DEA seized $13,260 cash at the Orlando International Airport and $13,260 returned within 6 months; and

  • $13,227 seized by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) at the Tampa International Airport and only $11,892 returned (after we alleged that some of the money had been stolen and was never found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)).

It is our experience that you should file a verified claim demanding that CBP refer the case for IMMEDIATE COURT ACTION instead of waiving your important rights by either submitting a petition for an administrative decision using remission or mitigation, an offer in compromise or simply abandoning the property.

How is the money at the airport is discovered?


When you go through the checkpoint, TSA screening personnel have equipment that detects bulk cash. In fact, U.S. Currency has a magnetic strip in each bill that can be easily detected by this equipment. The TSA screener might send a "tip" to a law enforcement officer who can seize the cash.

Or the officer might think you fit a "drug courier profile" because you bought the ticket right before the flight or because you bought a one-way ticket.

For reasons I will never understand, drug couriers often check luggage or have a carry-on bag that has filler in it instead of the items a traveler normally takes on a trip. 

If the officer walks a drug K9 dog around the cash and the dog alerts, then they might suspect you of being a drug dealer and assume the money must have come from illegal dealings in drugs.

Although you are not required to make any statement, people often start talking during these so-called "consensual encounters."

If you speak, the federal agents and officers with a local agency like the Tampa International Airport Police Department (TIAPD) might allege that you made inconsistent statements about where the money came from or that you acted nervous while telling the story.

The agents will then take you to a small room (away from the video surveillance cameras) and count your money. Sometimes the agents don't count the money and list an "undisclosed amount of U.S. Currency" on the written receipt.

Receipts for "Undisclosed Amounts of U.S. Currency" at the Airport


When federal agents with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) issue the receipt, they used a “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence” DHS Form 6051S (last revised in August of 2009).

Instead of counting the money in front of you, the HSI agent or task force officer might list an "undisclosed amount" of cash on the receipt and not the amount of money actually seized.

After you receive the custody receipt for seized property from the agent with the Department of Homeland Security, you will be sent on your way. By this time, you probably missed your flight.

Officers with the Tampa International Airport Police Department (TIAPD) have their own receipt forms that put you on notice that you can demand an adversarial preliminary hearing (APH) within 15 days.

If you get a notice of seizure from the TIAPD, always hire the attorney to demand the APD within 15 days because that is your best chance of getting all the money back and getting it back quicker.

Custody Receipt for Property Seized at the Airport


The Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence (DHS Form 6051S (08/09)) can be found in Handbook 5200-09. Form 6051S lists the incident number, the investigating case number, the enforce number, whether any prior detentions had occurred, the date of this seizure, the time of the seizure, and the name and address of the person from whom the property was seized.

The agent will then list the property taken. Later, the agent will document the acceptance of the property by another person so that the chain of custody can be documented.

If you didn't receive a receipt or the amount listed on the receipt is less than what was actually seized, you should be worried. Over the years, it has become all too easy for federal agents to pocket seized cash with little fear of getting caught.

Especially when money goes missing, your attorney can preserve all surveillance video at the airport showing who took the money and tracing their steps through the airport. We can also show why the agent didn't follow the correct procedures when counting the money.


What Authority Does Homeland Security Have to Seize the Money at the Airport?


If agents with Homeland Security seize the currency at the airport, they often allege that it is subject to forfeiture under the provisions of Title 18, United States Code, section 981(a)(1)(C). 

Under this provision, the agents will allege that the currency is the proceeds of the manufacture, sale, or distribution of a controlled substance which is identified as “specified unlawful activity” under Title 18, United States Code, section 1956(c)(7).

If you do nothing you may wait up to 60 days for the notice of seizure letter to arrive in the mail. The notice of seizure letter outlines your rights to contest the seizure. To speed up the process, if you hire the attorney, the attorney can help you file a verified claim to demand an EARLY JUDICIAL HEARING for court action immediately.

The claim is a letter written by your attorney and verified by you. The verified claim is then sent to the agent and local U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office.

The verified claim triggers the CBP, acting on behalf of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to send you a letter acknowledging that you have an interest in the seized property.

The verified claim also triggers a 90 day period in which CBP has to refer the matter to an AUSA who must decide between returning the money or filing a forfeiture action in the U.S. District Court.

Letter from CBP's Fines, Penalties and Forfeiture Officer

The letter will be sent by a “Fines, Penalties and Forfeiture Officer.” For seizures at the Tampa International Airport, the correspondence will usually be addressed to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures (FPF), 1624 E. 7th Avenue, Suite 101, Tampa, Florida 33605. 

The purpose of the letter is to advise you of the options available to you concerning this seizure. CBP will also send the following documents:
  1. “CAFRA Election of Proceedings” form; and
  2. “CAFRA Seized Asset Claim” form.
The letter instructs you to make certain choices on the “election of proceedings” form and return it, and any other necessary documents, to CBP within the allotted time frame.

Be advised that any false statement or claim may subject a person to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 and/or 18 U.S.C. Section 1621, punishable by a fine and imprisonment.

Demanding Court Action and a Jury Trial to Contest a Cash Seizure


Talk to an experienced attorney who might recommend that your best option is to elect for COURT ACTION which can include a JURY TRIAL if properly requested. In many cases, this is the fastest way to have the issue resolved. 

If you select one of the other options, you can expect delays that last more than a year.

The only downside to demanding judicial action is that you MIGHT have to appear in a courtroom in front of a judge at the Federal District Court. That only happens if the U.S. Attorney's Office decides to file the lawsuit which is rare.

If your attorney can show why the seizure was illegal, then the AUSA will choose not to file a forfeiture action then the property will be returned to you within a matter of months.

Only if the U.S. Attorney's Office decides to file a forfeiture action would you be required to go to court, exchange written discovery, or have your deposition taken. Your attorney can also protect you during that process by first requiring the court to issue a ruling on whether probable cause existed for the seizure.

Only after that determination should a AUSA be able to ask you any questions about your finances or the circumstances surrounding the possession of the currency. Your attorney can minimize the intrusion into your personal affairs.

Note that your attorney doesn’t have to wait for the letter called the “Notice of Seizure and Information to Claimants CAFRA Form” to request court action.

The attorney can make that election immediately after the seizure by sending the verified letter demanding court action. In some cases, the attorney will send the verified letter the next day after the seizure occurred.

The letter should also include your attestation and oath that you have an interest in the property claimed because you own the property and are requesting that the government initiate a judicial action to forfeit the seized property.

A claim can also be submitted by any innocent third party with an innocent owner defense.

You will be instructed that you must elect court action within 30 days by requesting referral of this matter to the U.S. Attorney, who will have the authority to simply return the property to you without any further delay.

The U.S. Attorney might decide to file a forfeiture action against the property in federal court pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 983(a)(3). If you choose this action, your attorney will check Box 4 on the “election of Proceedings” form.

Your attorney will also complete the enclosed “Seized Asset Claim” form or otherwise submit a complete judicial claim as required by 18 U.S..C. Section 983(a)(2)(C).

Option 4 provides:

I AM FILING A CLAIM AND REQUESTING THAT CBP REFER THE CASE FOR COURT ACTION. Please send the case to the U.S. Attorney for court action. I have fully completed, signed, and attached a “Seized Asset Claim” form.
I understand that if I have not fully completed this form, or otherwise made a proper claim and request for judicial forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 983(a)(2)(C) within 35 days after the date the notice of seizure was mailed, CBP will treat any submission as a petition for relief without the ability to seek future judicial forfeiture proceedings.

Other Less Desirable Options


1. Take No Action and Do Nothing: 


If you choose to do nothing, the CBP will initiate a forfeiture action. The first notice will be posted on or about 35 days from the date of this letter.

For property appraised in excess of $5,000, CBP will post notice of seizure and intent to forfeit on the internet at www.forfeiture.gov for 30 consecutive days.

For property appraised at $5,000 of less, CBP will post a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit in a conspicuous place accessible to the public at the customhouse or Board Patrol sector office (where appropriate) nearest the place of seizure as well as on the internet at www.forfeiture.gov for 30 consecutive days.


2. Abandon the Property


Abandon any claim or interest you may have in the property. If you select this option in the “Election of Proceedings - CAFRA Form” then no additional notice about further proceeds concerning the property will be provided to you.


3. File a Petition - Will Delay and Prolong the Resolution


You can file a petition with the CBP office within 30 days from the date of this letter in accordance with Title 19, United States Code (USC) Section 1618 and Title 19, Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), Section 171.1 and 171.2 (19 C.F.R. Section 171.1, 171.2), seeking the remission of the forfeiture.

The petition does not need to be in any specific form, but it must describe the property involved, identify the date and place of the seizure, including all the facts and circumstances which you believe warrant relief from forfeiture and must include proof of your interest in or claim to the property.

Examples of proof of interest include, but are not limited to, a car title, loan agreement, or documentation of the source of funds. If you choose this option you must check Box 1 on the “Election of Proceedings” form.

By completing Box 1 on the “election of Proceedings” form, you are requesting administrative processing. You are requesting that CBP refrain from beginning forfeiture proceedings while your petition is pending or that CBP halt forfeiture proceedings if they have already commenced.

If you choose to file an administrative petition and you are dissatisfied with the petition decision (initial petition or supplemental petition), you will have an additional 60 days from the date of the initial petition decision, or 60 days from the date of the supplemental petition decision, or such other time as specified by the Fines, Penalties and Forfeiture Office to file a claim to the property requesting a referral to the U.S. Attorney.

If you do not act within these time frames, the property may be administratively forfeited to the United States. You may also request a referral to the U.S. Attorney at any point prior to the issuance of a petition decision by filing a claim.

Please see section 4 of this letter for information on how to request judicial action. If you take such action after filing a petition for relief, your pending petition will be withdrawn from consideration.

If you request a referral to the U.S. Attorney or if another person asserting an interest in the same property chooses a referral to the U.S. Attorney, the matter will be referred to the U.S. Attorney who will have the authority to file a forfeiture action against the property in federal court pursuant to Title 18, U.S.C., Section 983(a)(3)(19 U.S.C. Section 983(a)(3)).

If upon receipt of your petition, the matter has already been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the institution of judicial forfeiture proceedings, your petition will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for consideration.


4. Any Offer in Compromise will Delay a Resolution


At any time prior to forfeiture, you may file an offer in compromise in accordance with 19 U.S.C. Section 1617 and 19 C.F.R. Section 161.5, 171.31. The offer must specifically state that you are making it under the provisions of 19 U.S.C. Section 1617.

If you are offering money in settlement of the case, you must include payment (bank draft, cashier’s check or certified check, drawn on a U.S. financial institution, and made payable to CBP) in the amount of your offer. CBP may only consider the amount of your offer and will return the full offer if it is rejected. 

This option may serve to delay any resolution of the case. If you choose this option, you must check Box 2 on the “Election of Proceedings” form.

If you choose to submit an offer in compromise and are dissatisfied with the offer decision, you will have an additional 30 days from the date of the offer decision to file a claim requesting a referral for judicial action. If you do not act within the additional 30 days, the property may be forfeited to the United States.

You may also request a referral for judicial action at any point prior to the issuance of the offer decision by fully completing the enclosed “Seized Asset Claim” form or by otherwise submitting a complete judicial claim consistent with the requirements under 18 U.S.C. Section 983(a)(2)(C). 

If you take such action, your petition or offer will be considered to have been withdrawn.

If, upon receipt of your offer, the matter has already been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the institution of judicial forfeiture proceedings, your offer will be forwarded to the United States Attorney’s Office for consideration as an offer in settlement of the judicial action, as appropriate.  

Be advised that any false statement or claim may subject a person to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 and/or 18 U.S.C. Section 1621, and may be punishable by a fine and imprisonment. 

Additional Resources:


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Tampa - With an office in Tampa, FL, CBP is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security that manages, controls, and protects the nation's borders and official ports of entry.
 
      U.S. Customs and Border Protections 
      Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures (FPF) Office
      1624 E. 7th Avenue, Suite 101
      Tampa, Florida 33605

Tampa International Airport Police Department - Visit the website of the Tampa International Airport Police Department to learn more about this nationally accredited law enforcement agency with 44 support personnel, 63 traffic specialists, and 66 sworn police officers. Sections of the TIAPD include the Airport Operations Center, Administration, Traffic, Bike Detail, Crime Prevention, Criminal Investigations, K9, and Patrol. In addition to providing traditional law enforcement services, the TIAP also enforces federal regulations associated with transportation security.

      Tampa International Airport Police Department
      4160 George J. Bean Parkway
      Tampa, Florida 33607
      Phone Number: 813-870-8700

CBP Makes Cash Seizures - Visit the website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to read an article about the risk to international travelers if they do not properly report currency. CBP seizes working at one unreported currency every day. The article explains why U.S. law requires international travelers to properly report currency in their possession whether traveling into or departing from the United States. Read more about the requirements for international travelers with negotiable monetary instruments valued at $10,000 or more to complete a form FinCEN 105, Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments. Find statistics on the currency seizures by CBP for FY 2015 - FY 2019 and FY20 To Date (TD).

 FY15FY16FY17FY18FY19FY20 TD AUG
Amount (USD)$75,964,824$62,101,328$65,002,856$63,691,464$68,879,080$93,302,645

Attorneys for Seizure of U.S. Currency for Forfeiture at New York Airports - Read an article by an attorney in New York on how federal agents seize U.S. currency from travelers on domestic and international flights including at JFK International Airport and LaGuardia International Airport. 

Conclusion


If a federal agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) took your cash, vehicle, or other property, and then alleged that the property was involved in unlawful activity, contact an experienced attorney to fight the forfeiture action. 

Whether the taking took place at your home, work, the roadside, or the airport, we can help you fight the forfeiture action with the goal of obtaining the immediate release of the money to you.

We also represent clients who are arrested for any other reason after being accused of committing a crime at Tampa International Airport, including carrying a concealed weapon or firearm, possession offenses, and driving under the influence on the airport property.

We represent clients after an arrest by the Tampa International Airport Police Department (TIAPD) and other law enforcement agencies at the airport.

Call 813-250-0500 to discuss your case. 


This blog article was last updated on Friday, April 9, 2021. 

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