Mimesis Law
25 May 2020

Come Fly The Friendly Skies…Just Don’t Bring Cash

August 12, 2016 (Fault Lines) – Commercial travel in America is a study in terrible customer service. Lost luggage. Cancelled flights. Rude TSA agents. Long security lines. Packed into an airplane like sardines.

How could it get worse?

Easy. Add in the federal government. Not just any part of the federal government. The Drug Enforcement Agency. Because when the DEA teams up with commercial travel, the result is a nightmare. Especially when the purpose is civil asset forfeiture.

According to a USA Today report earlier this week, the DEA is regularly going through Americans’ travel information. Why? To find more people carrying cash, of course.

The War on Americans Drugs requires money. Money buys more toys. Like machine guns, tanks, and margarita machines. Then that stuff gets used to find more money. If you think the War on Drugs sounds more like a Ponzi scheme, you may be on to something.

From the ticket counter to the back office, travel industry employees aren’t just cancelling your flights and sending your luggage to Timbuktu. They are also snitching on you.

DEA caught some heat a few years ago for paying an Amtrak secretary almost $1 million over 20 years for information on train travelers. According to USA Today, DEA agents have now gone far beyond their Amtrak spy. Agents cultivated a wide network of informants, allowing them to profile passengers on just about every major airline. Depending on your ticket and how you brought it, you get turned in as a target. And, God forbid, don’t go to California.

[DEA agents] also appeared to pay particular attention to people headed to cities such as Los Angeles (which prosecutors described as “a well-known source city for marijuana and other types of narcotics”), Fresno (“known for large quantities of outdoor grown marijuana”) and other California cities.

What’s in it for the travel industry informants? More money, of course. It’s the root of all forfeiture. The same thing feeding the War on Drugs has turned the ticket counter girl or guy into a government stool pigeon.

Some informants are paid on a contingency. If it’s good seizure, the snitch gets a piece of it. And that potential contingency is no small amount. According to Justice Department records, DEA agents at the nation’s 15 busiest airports took over $200 million in cash. Forget drugs. Cash creates the real addiction.

“They count on this as part of the budget,” said Louis Weiss, a former supervisor of the DEA group assigned to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “Basically, you’ve got to feed the monster.”

Feeding the monster. The more money you have, the more you get. Applies to cops just as easy as anyone else. And why not? It’s as easy a way to steal money as ever invented. Fighting a federal forfeiture action is no small task. Even if you win, you lose. All the negative attention on forfeiture has been nice, but not a thing has changed in the courtroom.

Why would it? A federal prosecutor can take your money and sue you in federal court. If you are lucky enough to find one of the few lawyers with the stones to take on the feds in a forfeiture case, you enter a multi-year war of attrition where the government holds all the cards. Even better, Justice Department lawyers have no problem giving you back most of your money if you survive the grinder. So who knows what the real point is, other than hoping enough people back down long before the end.

When Christine Tillerson had $25,000 in cash seized on the way to Los Angeles, she swore it was money her boyfriend gave her to buy a vehicle. Federal agents insisted she was a drug courier. But after a year and a half, the feds agreed the money was legit and gave it back. But not all of it. The Detroit U.S. Attorney’s office decided a small percentage of it should be forfeited.

That should tell you everything you need to know about federal civil asset forfeiture. Was she going to buy a small percentage of drugs? Or was the federal government just partially sure she was a drug courier?

Or, more likely, has the government imposed a new tax? The “cash tax”? Maybe you weren’t doing anything wrong, but the federal government hates what it can’t track. And cash is hard to track. So they keep a little bit to teach you a lesson.

The DEA makes no bones about its real goal these days.

“We want the cash. Good agents chase cash,” said George Hood, who supervised a drug task force assigned to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago before he retired in 2007. “It was just easier to get the asset, and that’s where you make a dent in the criminal organization.”

No. This is an illusion the federal government should stop selling us, but more importantly, it’s time we stopped buying it.

These people transporting cash are almost never actually questioned, investigated, or arrested for drug trafficking. And that is the biggest clue this whole thing is a scam. If you want to put a dent in a criminal organization, arrest some of the criminals. Prosecute them. Put them in jail. Unless, of course, you don’t have the evidence. But then why are you taking the money?

As time goes on, the DEA, and other federal law enforcement agencies, are abandoning their mission in pursuit of easy money. Travelers are the newest target. That should tell us something.

To the DEA, cash seizures are one prong of a broader financial fight against gangs and Mexican cartels, which have reaped huge profits — usually in cash — from selling drugs in the United States. Agents “employ strategies and methods that attack the financial infrastructure of these criminal organizations,” spokesman Russ Baer said, including tracking the couriers they use to transport the money.

Baer said agents receive information from employees at “airlines, bus terminals, car rental agencies, storage facilities, vehicle repair shops, or other businesses.” He did not explain why so many suspected couriers are released without charges.

It goes even further. The DEA’s own spokesperson says they have numerous sources of information. The government is spying on its citizens. The law and order acolytes out there are probably okay with that, because drugs. But if no one is getting arrested, is that really promoting law and order? No. That is just spying.

The next time your flight gets delayed, don’t get so upset. Maybe you are contributing to the ongoing War on Drugs. Thanks for your help.

5 Comments on this post.

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  • losingtrader
    12 August 2016 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    “Long security lines. Packed into an airplane like sardines.”

    CLEAR , first class, and the Centurion Lounge.

    At least you won’t have the terrible customer service part before your money is taken.

    Nice post, though. You captured the disgust for these practices in a way I could visualize it as I read.

  • Rick
    13 August 2016 at 11:03 am - Reply

    We all curse the IRS but in reality they are doing exactly what Congress wants them to do. I expect the DEA is doing the same thing. If this were actually a “problem” Congress could pass a law tomorrow reigning the DEA in. Politicians always want more money.

  • Anonymous
    14 August 2016 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Do you have more info on the Tillerson case? What evidence, if any, did USG cite I support of claim the money was dirty? Did you review the court filings? I personally have never travelled with that amount of cash, and most car dealers take other forms of payment, right?

    • Bruce Coulson
      16 August 2016 at 2:09 pm - Reply

      A car dealer…or a private seller? Many times, you can get a better deal if you flash a wad of cash and say “Well, you’re asking $30k for this car, but (going through your bills) I can give you 22K right now.” A cashier’s check or money order makes that offer much more difficult.

      As for the one-way ticket; you buy a car. You probably want a mechanic to inspect it for hidden defects, clean it up a bit all of which takes some time. Maybe you’re even going to drive your new ride home! In either event, you have no idea when you’ll be ready to return home, making a two-way ticket a needless expense.

  • Anonymous
    16 August 2016 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    Bruce, I read online the cash was mostly $20 bills. Do you think that should factor in? I also read a suggestion she made a false statement in the interview with law enforcement that she also had like 20 k in a business account. Would that change your mind?