Police in many parts of the United States are routinely seizing cash and valuables from citizens without arrest or trial. Worst of all, police officers in Texas and Virginia have actually been stopping motorists and seizing their cash.
Having a large amount of cash on you or in your car is now apparently a crime in some parts of the United States. Worse, laws set up to seize cash from drug dealers are being used to seize money from people stopped for minor traffic violations.
A disturbing article in The New Yorker magazine mentions several instances of police seizing cash from citizens. The cops used a legal doctrine called forfeiture to seize the cash. The frightening thing is that the cash and valuables can be taken without an arrest or even criminal charges. They can simply seize it on probable cause and in many cases that have nothing to do with drugs.
State and federal laws now authorize forfeiture for a wide variety of crimes, many of them quite minor. You can have property or cash seized for such offenses as cockfighting, drag racing, gambling, illegal fishing, and more. The most bothersome detail is that many police departments consider forfeiture money part of their budgets.
The Monroe, North Carolina, police department wants to use $44,000 in drug money to buy a drone to spy on local residents, New Yorker reporter Sarah Stillman noted. Stillman thinks the drone would be used to patrol local roads looking for more vehicles to seize.
Cash for Kids
Perhaps the worst case involved Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson, a couple from Houston. When the two drove from Houston to Henderson’s hometown on the Texas/Louisiana state line, they made the mistake of bringing all their savings in cash. They wanted to use the money to buy a used car.
The couple was pulled over by the local police in Tenaha, Texas. The officer, Barry Washington, searched the couple’s car and discovered the cash. Once he saw the cash, Washington took the two to the police station on the pretext that they were smuggling marijuana (there was none in the car).
At the police station, the local district attorney, Lynda K. Russell, told Henderson and Boatright that they faced charges of money laundering and child endangerment. The two would go to jail, and their children would be turned over to social workers. Then Russell made the couple an offer they couldn’t refuse; if they turned over all of their cash, they could stay out of jail and keep the children.
The two turned over the money in exchange for signing a waiver under which police would drop charges. There was no trial or hearing of any sort. Instead, police simply took the cash. The only way the couple could get the cash back was to hire a lawyer and sue the town.
If You Carry Cash, You’re a Target
Anybody who carries a large amount of cash, such as those trying to avoid tracking of financial transactions, are now a target for forfeiture. They include a man named James Morrow, who was pulled over in Tenaha for driving too close to the white line. Police took $3,900 in cash from him; Morrow was planning to use the money to pay for dental work.
Police accused Morrow of being a drug dealer and refused to let him call his bank to prove he had taken the money out. Police also seized Morrow’s car and phone, then told him to walk home. He had to walk to Walmart and borrow a phone from a stranger to call his mother for a ride.
Such actions don’t just happen in Texas. In Virginia, Victor Ramos Guzman, a church secretary, and his brother were pulled over by a state trooper. The two had $28,000 in cash on them. The cash had been collected from church members and was going to be used to buy property for the house of worship. The trooper seized the cash and reported the case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). By reporting the Guzman brothers, who were legal residents of the United States, the Virginia state police could keep 80% of the cash under federal law.
Stillman’s article indicates that anybody carrying a large sum of cash or valuables such as gold can be a target for forfeiture. Worse, authorities could raid your house to get their hands on cash or gold kept there. Obviously preppers would be a major target for such operations.
The operations can be very profitable; authorities in Tenaha, Texas, seized $1.3 million from travelers in a six-month period. Most of the money was taken from drug smugglers who avoided jail by paying up, but a number of law abiding citizens got robbed as well.
Tenaha wasn’t even the worst example. In Caddo County, Oklahoma, a private company named Desert Snow LLC was hired to train a “drug interdiction task force.” The training consisted of Desert Snow employees stopping drivers and stealing up to 25% of their cash. In Hunt County, Texas, police officers received $26,000 a year bonuses from a forfeiture fund.
Policemen Turned into Tax Collectors
The worst aspect of forfeiture is that it turns police officers into tax collectors. The major role of police shifts from law enforcement and protecting the public to bringing in revenue.
Instead of catching criminals, police are on the lookout for those with cash so that they can seize it. They often target minorities, especially Hispanics, who often carry large amounts of cash and may not be legal citizens. Many of the victims are working people, who lose all or part of their life savings.
As more and more local governments around the country get cash strapped, expect forfeiture to get worse. Smaller communities, which depend heavily on sales and property tax for revenue, are more likely to use it.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family from forfeiture? The best advice is to limit the amount of cash that you carry. Don’t carry more than a few hundred dollars with you. Instead, keep the money in a bank and use ATMs to withdraw it when you want to make a purchase. Internet banks like Bank of Internet and Everbank let you make withdrawals for no fees.
Beyond that, don’t attract attention to yourself; make sure cash is well hidden and nobody suspects you have it. That way you can avoid the attention of the robbers with badges. Keep the cash and valuables well hidden and make sure nobody knows about them, particularly the police.