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Seizures of Cash at the Airport

Although there is no legal limit to the amount of currency that you may carry at any given time, if you carry a large amount of currency, then state or federal agents might try and seize it during a traffic stop, at a port of entry, bus station, train station, or at the airport.

Seizures at the airport are particularly common during the screening process at a security checkpoint before boarding. Instruments used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) during the screening process can detect the amount of currency in your carry-on or checked luggage. Even handheld detectors get signals from the magnetic strips in dollar bills. When the magnetic strips are stacked together, the signal is even stronger.

If you have more than $10,000.00 in cash, even for a domestic flight, it might result in federal agents detaining you and seizing any money in your possession. When agents with the TSA discovered large amounts of bundled currency in your carry-on bag as you go through the screening process at the security checkpoint, the information is passed onto law enforcement officers who might attempt to detain you before you board your flight.

Although you are not required to make a statement, many people start talking soon after the detention begins. When the federal agency encounter a story that doesn’t make sense, they might just seize the money. Because many people don’t immediately contest the seizure, federal agents have figured out an easy way to take money from suspected drug smugglers, money laundering, or bulk cash smuggling suspects.

After the seizure of money from a person at the airport, the agents will often write you a receipt for an “undisclosed amount of U.S. Currency” before depositing the cash into an “Asset Forfeiture Fund” managed by the Department of Justice. You are then provided with an opportunity to contest the seizure of the referenced currency in U.S. District Court. How do you get seized money back after a seizure at the airport? Although you have the option to petition for remission or mitigation, those administrative options are usually are less successful than “filing a claim” for court action (sometimes called “early judicial intervention”).

The agency that took your cash will send you notice of your rights in a letter. But you don’t have to wait for that letter to file your claim to contest the seizure of the referenced currency in U.S. District Court. In fact, you can hire an attorney to file the claim immediately after the seizure which will speed up the process.

Although you have the option to petition for remission or mitigation, those administrative options are usually far less successful than demanding immediate court action immediately after the seizure (even weeks before you receive the notice explaining your rights in the mail).

Notice of seizure letters are sent by certified mail, return receipt requested to the address provided by the petitioner at the time of seizure. Pay particular attention to the last day to file a claim. If the claim is not received by this date, the claim will be returned because it was filed after the expiration of the period to file a claim. An attorney can make sure the claim is filed in a proper and timely manner.

If federal agents with the DEA, ICE, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), or the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, seized your cash at the airport, we can help you fight to get all of the money back. Instead of just letting them keep your money, you should retain an attorney who can fight the case aggressively. To get the money back, you should immediately hire an attorney to demand the quick return of the money or that a forfeiture action is filed in the U.S. District Court.

Attorneys for Airport Cash Seizures / Forfeitures in Tampa, FL

At Sammis Law Firm, our civil asset forfeiture attorneys are experienced in fighting for the return of your cash or other property. We can take your case without any attorney fees or costs unless we recover money. With offices in downtown Tampa in Hillsborough County and in New Port Richey in Pasco County, FL, we are familiar with the best ways to fight seizures of cash the following airports:

  • the Tampa International Airport (TPA);
  • the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ);
  • the St. Petersburg / Clearwater International Airport (PIE KPIE);
  • the Orlando International Airport (MCO);
  • Miami International Airport; and
  • Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport.

We also represent clients if their cash or other property is seized for forfeiture at any bus station or Amtrak train station in Florida. If federal agents with DEA, ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or Homeland Security Investigations, seized your cash at the airport then we can help. If they take your money, immediately contact an attorney who can file an immediate demand for “early judicial intervention.”

Demanding the return of your money or that the U.S. Attorney’s Office file the forfeiture action in the U.S. District Court is often the fastest way to get your money back.

When it comes to airport cash seizures by agents with DEA, ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or Homeland Security, a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney in Tampa, FL, can help you fight to get your money back. We can help you challenge the legality of the seizure and the validity of any forfeiture action.

We also represent clients who are arrested at the airport for carrying a concealed weapon or other contraband.

Call 813-250-0500.


Indicators of Drug Trafficking or Bulk Cash Smuggling

Federal agents at the airport are looking for the following indicators of drug trafficking or bulk cash smuggling which might involve:

  • traveling with a one-way ticket;
  • buying that ticket at the counter or within 72 hours of the departure;
  • flying to a state where marijuana is legal for recreational purposes such as Colorado or California;
  • using cash to buy the plane ticket;
  • using another individual to purchase the plant ticket;
  • not having any lodging arrangements;
  • artfully concealing U.S. currency in carry on luggage;
  • providing inconsistent statements regarding the currency;
  • having no verifiable source of income;
  • possessed evidence of structuring activity;
  • having a criminal record; or
  • being a male between the age of 18 and 39 years old.

When cash is seized, the agents are often looking for a young man traveling to California or Colorado who recently purchased a one-way airline ticket.

The agents assume that the person is coming into a state where marijuana is legal to purchase a large amount of marijuana and then drive it back to another state in a rental vehicle where the marijuana can be sold on the black market for a large profit.


The Typical Airport Seizure of Currency Case

In these cases, the federal agents suspect that the suspect is flying to a state to pick up a trafficking amount of marijuana and then rent a vehicle to drive the  marijuana back to Florida. As a result, many of these cases involve a one-way airline ticket to Colorado or California.

Many of these seizures of currency cases involve an alleged “consensual encounter” at the airport between the petitioner and law enforcement agents. The agent might approach the petitioner while wearing plain clothes. The agent might tell the petitioner that he is not under arrest and was free to continue with his travel. The report will allege that the petitioner:

  • agreed to speak with the agent and complied with the agent’s request to produce identification;
  • was engaged in conversation;
  • explained where he was traveling from and to;
  • advised that the tickets were purchased with cash or purchased by another person;
  • didn’t have lodging arrangements;
  • gave free and voluntary consent to search his luggage;
  • had large stack of currency wrapped with rubber bands and consisting of all $100 bill denomination;
  • gave inconsistent statements about where the money came from.

Before terminating the encounter, the federal agents will then tell the petitioner that the currency found in his luggage was suspected to be related to controlled substances and would be detained pending further investigation.

In many of these cases, a canine trained to alert to the presence of controlled substances alerted in a positive manner to the currency.

A count of the currency seized from Petitioner’s luggage by a financial institution determined that Petitioner was in possession of a large amount of currency. The referenced currency is then seized and forfeited pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881.


Choosing Between an Administrative or Judicial Forfeiture

You have the opportunity to challenge the forfeiture. The federal agents hope you take no action or choose an administrative forfeiture, but the better course of action is challenging the taking in a judicial forfeiture by demanding that an attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office review the case to either immediately return the property or file a forfeiture action in the appropriate U.S. District Court.

Going along with an administrative forfeiture is a bad idea because they are handled in-house by the same agency that took the money. These challenges do not take place in a courtroom. No judge will see the case. You get none of the protections contained in the rules of evidence or the rules of procedure that normally accompany a lawsuit. The agents prefer the administrative forfeiture challenges for all of these reasons.

On the other hand, judicial forfeiture requires the filing of a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court where the rules of evidence and the rules of procedure apply. More importantly, requesting a court action often triggers the State Attorney’s Office to decline filing a forfeiture action which is the quickest way to get all of the money back.


The Notice of Seizure after Money is Seized at the Airport by DEA or ICE Agents

If DEA or ICE agents took your money at the airport, you are entitled to due process of law which means a fair hearing to contest the legality of the taking of your cash or other property. If your cash or property is taken, the agents are required to issue you a receipt and then a notice of seizure. The notice of seizure must be issued to any interested person to notify them of the seizure and give them a chance to file a claim.

An interested party can include anyone who has a legal right to claim the seized asset including the owner of the property or a lien holder.

Under 18 U.S.C. 983(a)(1)(A), the government has 60 days from the date of the seizure of your cash at the airport to send you a Notice of Seizure. When property is seized by a local or state law enforcement agency, the deadline can be extended to 90 days.

If the notice of seizure is not provided within the applicable timeline, then the government must immediately return the property. If the government actually files a Civil Forfeiture lawsuit before the 60 or 90 day deadline expires then the Administrative Forfeiture process ends and the Judicial Forfeiture process begins.

If the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“CBP”) seized the cash, then they will issued a “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence” (form 6051S). The custody receipt includes a “FPF” number that allows the case to be tracked by the Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures office of Customs (“FP&F”) for the airport where the cash seizure occurred.

What is the Deadline to File a Claim for Immediate Judicial Intervention?

If the government sends you a notice of seizure within the 60 or 90 day deadline, then any party with an interest in the property has 35 days to file a claim. The 35 day deadline begins from the notice was mailed. If the required claim is not RECEIVED within that 35 day period, then the government gets to keep all of the money under an administrative forfeiture action.

If the proper claim is filed within the 35 day period, then the government only has ninety (90) days thereafter to do the following:

  • return the cash or property to the person making the claim;
  • filing a civil forfeiture lawsuit in the district court; or
  • obtain a criminal indictment showing that the property is subject to forfeiture.

Keep in mind that a civil forfeiture does not require a criminal conviction, instead, the government must prove, by a preponderance of the evidenece, that the property is subject to forfeiture.


Defenses to Civil Asset Forfeiture Actions at the Airport

Your attorney can help you asset defenses in order to convince the attorneys working for the government that it would be better to return the money or property to you without further delay. Those defenses that can be raised by your civil asset forfeiture defense attorney include:

  • an unlawful interrogation;
  • an innocent owner defense;
  • an excessive fine defense:
  • illegal search or seizure;
  • lack of nexus defense;
  • statute of limitations;
  • showing an legitimate source or use;
  • insufficient evidence;
  • conflict in the evidence; or
  • unreliable K-9 evidence.

We can help you negotiate the return of your money or other property. The amount of money the government is willing to return will depend on the strength or weakness of your case.

When you hire a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney, make sure they are able to fight the case to the end. The best settlements usually occur early in the case or right before an adversarial preliminary hearing or at trial.


Problems with Filing a Petition for Remission or Mitigation

The main problem with trying to file a petition for remission or mitigation is that the case will then be decided by a Senior Attorney (including Carmen R. Pomares) with the Asset Forfeiture Section of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the U.S. Department of Justice. If you file a petition for remission or mitigation regarding the seizure of money or other property, the DEA might simply deny the petition because it fails to meet the requirements for remission or mitigation. 28 C.F.R. Part 9 (2017).

Federal regulations explicitly prohibit remission of a forfeiture unless the petitioner establishes the following:

  1. A valid, good faith, and legally cognizable interest in the seized property as an owner or lienholder; and
  2. Qualification as an “innocent owner” within the meaning of the applicable civil forfeiture statute.

You should understand that the remission or mitigation of a forfeiture is neither a right nor a privilege, but an act of grace. In re the Matter of Sixty Seven Thousand Four Hundred Seventy Dollars ($67,467.00) v. United States, 901 F.2d 1540, 1543 (11th Cir. 1990); Laconia Savings Bank v. United States of America, 116 F. Supp. 2d 248 (2000).

A Petition for Remission and Mitigation “does not serve to contest the forfeiture, but rather is a request for executive pardon of the property based upon the petitioner’s innocence or, for a wrongdoer, on a plea of leniency.” United States v. Vega, 72 F.3d 507, 514 (7th Cir. 1995), cert. denied sub nom. Early v. United States, 116 S. Ct. 2529 (1996). See also United States v. Wong, 62 F.3d 1212, 1214 (9th Cir. 1995); United States v. Ruth, 65 F.3d 599, 604n.2 (7thCir.1995), cert.denied, 517U.S.1158; 116S.Ct 1548; 517U.S. l158 (1996).

A decision with respect to remission or mitigation of a forfeiture is made solely at the discretion of the Attorney General. See 21 U.S.C. § 881 (d) (2017); 19 U.S.C. § 1618 (2017). The Attorney General and the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have delegated the authority to determine the merits of such petitions to the Asset Forfeiture Section of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the U.S. Department of Justice. 28 C.F.R. §§0.100 (b), 0.104; 28 C.F.R. §9.1 (b).

The Senior Attorney with the Asset Forfeiture Section of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the U.S. Department of Justice acts as the Ruling Official and considers whether the evidence is sufficient for forfeiture. The attorney with the DEA’s Asset Forfeiture Section starts with a presumption that a valid forfeiture occurred. 28 C.P.R. § 9.5 (a) (4). See Juncaj v. United States, 894 F.Supp. 318, 320 (E. D. Mich. 1995); Reinoso v. Drug Enforcement Administration, No. 93-CIV-1516 (KTD), 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18054.


The Petition for Remission or Mitigation Terminates Any Change for Judicial Review

The decision of Carmen R. Pomares or another Senior Attorney with the DEA’s Asset Forfeiture Section on a petition for remission or mitigation is not thereafter subject to judicial review on its merits.

In United States v. One 1987 Jeep Wrangler Automobile, 972 F.2d 472,479 (2d Cir. 1992), the court found that the “overwhelming weight of authority supports the position that a federal court lacks jurisdiction to review the merits of administrative forfeiture decisions once the administrative process has begun.” United States v. Hewett, (S.D.N.Y. 2003) 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9812; Walker v. DEA, (S.D.N.Y. 2003) 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14958.

In other words, once the administrative process has begun, a federal district court generally does not have subject matter jurisdiction to review the merits of an administrative forfeiture decision. Dawson v. The Drug Enforcement Administration, 927 F. Supp. 748 (1996).


Burden of Proof for a Petition for Remission or Mitigation of Forfeited Property

The petitioner has the burden of establishing the basis for granting a petition for remission or mitigation of forfeited property. See Regulations Governing the Remission or Mitigation of Civil and Criminal Forfeiture, 28 C.P.R. § 9.5 (a) (3). See 19 U.S.C. § 1618 (The Attorney General may return the property if he finds mitigating circumstances to justify the remission.).


Reasons the Petition for Remission is Denied

At the time of seizure, there was sufficient probable cause to believe the currency represents proceeds from the illicit sale of controlled substances and/or was used or intended to be used to facilitate illicit controlled substance transactions in violation of21 U.S.C. § 881 (a) (6).

The petition is often found to be devoid of any type of documentation to establish that the referenced currency was derived from legitimate sources. Pursuant to 28 C.F.R. §§ 9.3 (c)(iv) and 9.5 (a)(3), a petitioner bears the burden of establishing the basis for granting the petition. Failure to provide the required information may be cause for the denial of the petition.

For these reasons, the attorney with the DEA will often find that the Petitioner has not provided sufficient documentation to support a legitimate source for the referenced currency.

Examples of documentation that would show sufficient documentation to support a legitimate source for the reference currency would include employment, tax, bank, or other documentation that would establish the petitioner had legitimate sources of income.


Whether Extenuating Circumstances Warrant Mitigation of the Forfeiture

Even when the petition does not meet the minimum conditions for remission, as a matter of discretion, the attorney for the DEA’s Asset Forfeiture Section will re-examined the petition to determine whether extenuating circumstances exist that warrant mitigation of the forfeiture. 28 C.F.R. § 9.5 (b).

In many of these cases, the attorney for the Asset Forfeiture Section of the DEA will conclude that the petitioner has failed to adequately demonstrate that any mitigating factors exist to justify any relief from the forfeiture.


Eighth Amendment Prohibitions Against Excessive Punishments

The attorney for the DEA will also review the facts of this case to determine if the forfeiture would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive punishments, as discussed in Austin v. United States, 113 S. Ct. 2801 (1993). The DEA attorney will determine that the administrative forfeiture was entirely proportional to the offense, considering the substantial connection between the forfeited property and the offense.

In addition, the correct forum in which to challenge the constitutionality of the forfeiture is Federal District Court. Since the Petitioner failed to contest this forfeiture judicially, this option is no longer open. United States v. Giraldo, 45 F.3d 509 (1st Cir. 1995); Caraballo v. Drug Enforcement Administration, 62 Fed. Appx. 362, 363 (2003).


Reconsideration of the DEA’s Decision to Deny Remission or Mitigation

The Petitioner may request reconsideration of any decision. 28 C.F.R. § 9.3 (j). Only one request for reconsideration shall be considered. Any request for reconsideration must be based on information or evidence not previously considered. This new information or evidence must be material to the basis for this denial or must present a basis clearly demonstrating that the denial is erroneous. Requests must be postmarked or received by this office within 10 days of your receipt of the letter informing you of the decision.

Further correspondence with this office must include the DEA Case and Asset ID numbers referenced above and be addressed to: Carmen R. Pomares or the Forfeiture Counsel assigned to the case with the Asset Forfeiture Section, Drug Enforcement Administration, HQs Response, 8701 Morrissette Drive, Springfield, Virginia 22152.


Seizure of Unreported Currency at the Airport

If your money was seized by officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection then you are not alone. On a typical day in 2017, CBP officers around the country seized $265,205 in undeclared or illicit currency. Many of these cases involved the seizure of unreported currency at airports.

Travelers may carry as much currency as they wish into and out of the United States and it is not taxed at the port of entry. However, federal law requires that travelers who are carrying more than $10,000 in currency or monetary instruments must report it to a CBP officer and complete a U.S. Treasury Department financial form.

To find unreported exportations of bulk U.S. currency, CBP performs outbound inspections to find the proceeds from alleged illicit activity or currency that funds transnational criminal organizations.

If your money was seized by federal agents for the failure to report currency, by agents with Homeland Security Investigations, then contact an experienced attorney at Sammis Law Firm.


Additional Resources

DEA Asset Forfeiture Section – The Asset Forfeiture Section provides legal advice on a variety of issues related to criminal, civil and administrative asset forfeiture. Attorneys in the asset forfeiture section of the Office of Chief Counsel in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) review pre-seizure probable cause determinations for legal sufficiency and to ensure that due process is provided to all parties with a legal interest in the seized property. Attorneys provide legal advice and support to DEA management and field offices worldwide. These attorneys also rule on petitions for remission or mitigation of forfeiture. Attorneys in the asset forfeiture section represent DEA agents in confidential informant lawsuits, reviewing relevant sections of DEA and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) policy, and draft legal memorandam analyzing issues inherent in asset forfeiture matters. The attorney also responds to daily inquiries regarding proper processing and disposition of seized and forfeited assets and prepare litigation reports supporting probable cause determinations for judicial forfeiture cases, drafts declarations to support litigation positions. The attorney works with DEA and other law enforcement personnel to support the U.S. Attorney’s Offices with judicial forfeiture cases, assist DEA personnel working with other Federal agencies and communicating with private attorneys, strengthen drug-related investigations and pre-seizure planning, serve as a liaison between DEA Agents and federal prosecutors, and provides legal instruction to domestic and international asset forfeiture personnel. Read more about attorneys fighting a DEA seizure and forfeiture case.


Attorney or Airport Currency Seizure Cases in Florida

In the typical case in which currency is seized at the airport, a person is traveling through an international airport in Florida upon arrival from a foreign country. The person is in possession of a large amount of currency. Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) decide to detain and question the person about the U.S. currency.

The CBP customs agents will then seized the money and issue the person a “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence.” A few weeks later, the person will receive a letter entitled “CAFRA Notice of Seizure and Information to Claimants Form AF.” The letter provides notice of the date, place, and legal reason for the seizure of the currency held in violation of 31 U.S.C. §§ 5316 and 5317. The notice also provides a list of ways to challenge or contest the seizure.

After we are retained in a case in which currency were seized at the airport, we first request a copy of any surveillance video from the airport. We explain to the client why we should demand immediate judicial action instead of filing a Petition for Remission or Mitigation of Forfeiture. If the money is not immediately returned or a forfeiture action is not filed in U.S. District Court within the time allowed by law, then we filed a lawsuit in federal court to demand the return of the property.

If your currency was seizure at the airport or a port of entry, then contact an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney at the Sammis Law Firm with offices in downtown Tampa, FL. We can help you understand how to fight the seizure of your currency at a port of entry, bus station, train station, through the mail, or at an airport.

Call 813-250-0500.


This article was last updated on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. 

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