TAMPA, Fla.—Stacy Jones’s $43,167 will be returned to her after the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wrongfully seized it as she was flying home to Tampa from the Wilmington International Airport in May of this year. Without offering any explanation or apology for the harm caused by confiscating her money, the DEA informed the Institute for Justice (IJ) via letter that it would transfer the money back to Stacy.
Stacy had flown with large amounts of cash in the past and did not expect it would be a problem when she did so earlier this year. After cutting short a planned trip to a North Carolina casino, she packed money that she had intended to gamble in her carry-on bag. At the airport, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners saw the cash on their X-ray and held onto her bag, even though there was no indication that Stacy or her luggage posed a threat to transportation security. Sheriff’s deputies and DEA agents interrogated her about the source of the money. She explained the legal sources of her money, but the DEA agents seized it—without any allegation of criminality. In July, Stacy teamed up with IJ to fight for her money and to end these unconstitutional and unlawful practices by the DEA and the TSA.
“Getting my money back is a big relief, but DEA never should have taken it in the first place,” said Stacy. “In going through this nightmare, I found out that I’m not the only innocent American who has been treated this way. I hope that my continuing lawsuit will end the government’s practice of treating people flying with cash like criminals.”
IJ’s federal class action lawsuit aims to stop TSA’s and DEA’s unconstitutional and unlawful airport cash seizure practices. First, the suit claims that TSA exceeds its statutory authority by seizing travelers and their luggage simply for traveling with a “large” amount of cash, which poses no threat to transportation security—the agency’s sole mission. Second, the suit claims that this TSA practice also violates the Fourth Amendment rights of flyers. Third, the suit claims that the DEA violates the Fourth Amendment rights of flyers by seizing them based solely on the belief or knowledge that they are traveling with a large amount of cash, and by seizing their money for civil forfeiture without probable cause, based solely on its amount.
“We are glad that Stacy will get her money back, but it is shameful that federal agents keep targeting innocent flyers at our nation’s airports,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “We are going to keep fighting to end TSA’s and DEA’s unconstitutional and unlawful practices of seizing people and their cash without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”
Stacy’s case is emblematic of the upside-down world of civil forfeiture, where the government brings charges against property instead of people. The government does not have to convict or even charge people with a crime in order to take and keep their property. Property owners are not entitled to legal representation, and the standard of proof needed for the government to keep the property is lower than in a criminal case. More information on federal and state civil forfeiture practices is available at: https://ij.org/report/policing-for-profit/.