TAMPA (WFLA) – Stacy Jones and her husband like to travel and they like to gamble, traveling to North Carolina from Tampa for the opening of a new casino – and they did well.
While in North Carolina, they also sold a car and so when they arrived at the airport to fly back to Tampa they had $43,000 in cash in a carry-on bag.
At the airport, a TSA agent questioned them about the cash and eventually called in the DEA.
Jones says she had the DEA agent call the friend who had purchased their car to prove that’s where they picked up some of the money. They also told the DEA they had traveled to go gambling and won big.
That wasn’t enough and the DEA seized the cash. Without proof, the DEA assumed they got the money from an illegal transaction and seized the cash.
Jones was forced to hire an attorney who specializes in these cases just to try and get her money back.
“Civil forfeiture process is very complicated. You have to file claim forms with the government, you have to wait a long period of time,” said attorney Dan Alban.
It’s taken six months, but the DEA finally sent a letter to Alban saying they will return the money.
Jones says she lost more than just the cash.
“I was working for a major airline and when this incident happened they suspended me because they assumed that I was committing something unethical, so until that could be proven they suspended me and then forced me to resign,” said Jones.
She also says her case is not unique.
“I know of a man who owns a tour bus company and was going to buy another tour bus and he had proof he was going to buy a tour bus and they took the money, ” said Jones.
Alban has now filed a class-action suit against the government.
“That’s the basis of our national class-action lawsuit, challenging these seizures by TSA and DEA from innocent people who get caught up in this simply because they are traveling with cash and end up losing it for six to seven months and many of them end up losing it permanently,” said Alban.
There is no law in the United States that says how much cash you are allowed to carry at one time, but Alban said the DEA has its own threshold. U.S. Citizens traveling abroad must declare if they are traveling with more than $10,000 but that’s not what was going on in Jones’ case.
“What’s happening now is, if TSA sees that somebody has a large amount of cash in their luggage when they go through TSA screening they immediately seize it and they turn it over to law enforcement,” said Alban.
What’s not clear is what the threshold is. The DEA did not return multiple requests for comment.
Alban says the seizure violates his client’s constitutional rights.
“You have to have probable cause in order to seize somebody’s property under the constitution. The 4th amendment requires it and the DEA is not exempt from the constitution,” said Alban.
Stacy Jones said she’s learned a difficult lesson.
“Don’t carry cash, that’s basically it. I’m nervous to even carry $500 at this point,” said Jones.
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