by Casey J. Bastian
Kermit Warren is the latest victim of unconscionable governmental abuses of the civil asset forfeiture laws. The Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) is again in the news for seizing cash from a citizen without any proof of criminal activity. Warren had $28,000 on his person with which he had intended to purchase a used tow truck.
While travelling to Ohio from Louisiana, Warren and his son were stopped and questioned by three DEA agents. The agents determined that the pair’s statements were “suspicious” and “incomplete,” so the agents seized the money. There is no law against travelling or flying domestically with any amount of undeclared cash. Yet federal law enforcement makes a habit of abusing civil asset forfeiture laws to seize cars, cash, guns, and even houses. These laws do not require that the owner be charged with, or convicted of, any crime prior to law enforcement initiating seizure proceedings. It is a blatant money-grab. USA Today conducted an investigation in 2016 and found that the DEA had seized over $209 million dollars from around 5,200 travelers at 15 airports during the previous decade.
The Institute for Justice (“IFJ”) is a public-interest law firm that is litigating several lawsuits against the DEA for its practices of abusing the seizure laws. Warren is now represented by the IFJ in his lawsuit against the DEA. In a recent IFJ press release, Warren commented that, “The government shouldn’t be able to take every dollar I’ve saved up when I’ve committed no crime.” Warren says that it has been very difficult to support his family after the government took his money. “The way the government has treated me made me feel like dirt. I hope not only to get my money back, but to stop this nightmare from happening to anyone else,” added Warren in his statement.
The IFJ has Stacey Jones and Terrence Rolin as plaintiffs in other pending class-action lawsuits. Jones had $43,167 taken from her at a Tampa airport. Rolin had $82,373 of his life savings taken after his daughter travelled with the money to a Pittsburgh airport where she had intended to take the money to a local bank for her father. Both Jones and Rolin had their money returned to them after the cases went public.
So far, Warren has not been so lucky. “[The] DEA’s practice of ‘see money, take money’ counts on people’s inability to navigate the maze of civil forfeiture proceedings in order to get their property back,” said IFJ attorney Jaba Tsitsuashvili.
Tsitsuashvili added, “The government shouldn’t be able to keep a person’s life savings without a related criminal conviction. But people like [Warren] are essentially forced to prove their innocence just to keep what they worked so hard to earn. And law enforcement agencies use that money to pad their own policing budgets. This abuse needs to end.”
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