A 64-year-old Cleveland man is suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection after they strip-searched at an airport in October and took more than $58,000 in cash that he was carrying with him. he was never charged with a crime, because after all, carrying too much cash in not really a crime, even on a flight. Customs says it suspects that the petitioner in the case, Rustem Kazazi, was involved in smuggling, drug trafficking or money laundering. Kazazi denies those allegations and says that the agency is violating federal law by keeping his money without filing any formal complaint against him.
Customs agents seized the money through a process known as civil asset forfeiture. Law enforcement officers can take assets or cash from persons suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing. In 2017, federal authorities seized more than $2 billion in assets from people.
MR. Kazazi says that $58,100 in U.S. currency that he was carrying with him, is the product of 12 years of savings by himself, his wife, Lejla, and his son Erald, a chemical engineering student at Cleveland State University. He explained that he was afraid to wire the money and then make such a large withdrawal in an Albanian bank. “The exchange rates and fees are also excessive”, he claimed.
As per the Washington Post,On Oct. 24, Kazazi arrived at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to begin the first leg of his journey, which would take him to Newark to connect with an international flight. He carried the cash in three counted and labeled bundles in his carry-on bag, he said, along with receipts from recent bank withdrawals and documentation pertaining to his family’s property in Tirana, the Albanian capital.
According to a translated declaration that Kazazi provided to the court as part of the lawsuit, Transportation Security Administration employees discovered the cash in his bag during a routine security check and alerted Customs and Border Protection.
The CBP agents led Kazazi to a small, windowless room and conducted multiple searches of him and his belongings, he said. According to Kazazi’s declaration, the agents asked him to remove all of his clothing and gave him a blanket to cover the lower portion of his body. Kazazi said that a man wearing rubber gloves then “started searching different areas of my body.”
Kazazi characterized the search as a “strip search” in an interview translated by his son. “I felt my rights violated,” he said.
The searches turned up nothing — no drugs, no contraband, no evidence of any illegal activity, according to the lawsuit. But the agents took Kazazi’s money. Even more alarming to Kazazi was that the receipt the agents handed to him did not list the dollar value of his cash.
Is It Legal?
It’s hard to say, and that’s why they will have a court decide. The Kazazis have been caught up in a broader struggle over civil asset forfeiture, a practice that has often come under fire. It’s useful to fight drug cartels and other criminals, but could also be used in these cases, when it’s not as clear that they’re dealing with a criminal.
In a statement, CBP said that “pursuant to an administrative search of Mr. Kazazi and his bags, TSA agents discovered artfully concealed U.S. currency. Mr. Kazazi provided inconsistent statements regarding the currency, had no verifiable source of income and possessed evidence of structuring activity,” that is, making cash withdrawals of less than $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements.
His lawyer says that Kazazi was not trying to conceal the cash — he had wrapped it in paper, labeled it and sent it through the scanner in his carry-on bag. The “inconsistent statements” were a result of Kazazi’s poor English language comprehension, Hottot said. He also noted that the structuring allegation was not included in the seizure notice. “They’ve never mentioned structuring before,” he said. “I think what were really seeing here is some creative Monday-morning quarterbacking by CBP, trying to justify the unjustified.”
You’re allowed to carry large amounts of cash with you as long as you declare it and you have the means to justify it. But it’s clear that it is not a good idea. Even if you declare it and have every proof possible, you should expect some extra scrutiny, searches and questions.
Let us know know what you think!