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Currency Seizures at JFK Airport

Did you know that you can legally carry any amount of money on a domestic flight? Nevertheless, Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) agents at the JFK International Airport use civil asset forfeiture laws to seize U.S. currency from unsuspecting travelers. DEA justifies the seizures based on highly circumstantial evidence suggesting that the money was used for drug trafficking or money laundering.

In many of these cases, the money is detected by scanners at the TSA security checkpoint. The traveler is detained long enough for the TSA agent to confirm the traveler is carrying a large amount of U.S. Currency. The TSA agent will also note the traveler's identity and itinerary. After the traveler is permitted to leave the TSA security checkpoint, the TSA agent might send a "secret tip" to a DEA agent. The DEA agent might then go to the gate to find the traveler with the intention of seizing the money.

While the traveler is waiting outside the gate to board the flight, the DEA agent might call out the person's name and start asking questions. Although the traveler is not required to answer questions or consent to a search, many travelers feel forced to do so. When the DEA discovers the U.S. Currency, they might seize it claiming the person is involved in drug trafficking or money laundering.

After the seizure, the DEA agent might hand the traveler a receipt for an "undisclosed amount" of U.S. Currency or cash. The traveler then has to worry about whether the TSA agent will handle the money correctly or whether some of it might go missing.

DEA agents handle most of the currency seizures at JFK for domestic flights. At the LaGuardia Airport, federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), are more likely to conduct the investigations and seize the currency for forfeiture.

How to Get Your Money Back After a Seizure at JFK Airport

The federal agent that seized the money might tell you to wait for a "notice of seizure" to arrive in the mail within 60 days. But you do not have to wait. Instead, you can retain an attorney to help you contest the DEA's seizure for civil asset forfeiture in court. By filing the verified claim for court action immediately after the money is seized, you can speed up the process considerably.

Filing a demand for court action is the ONLY way to contest the legality of the seizure. The DEA's administrative procedures for filing a petition for remission or mitigation don't typically work. The petitions for remission or mediation with the DEA almost always results in a form letter being sent months later. The form letter often indicates that DEA has decided to keep all of the money. By then, it is too late to demand court action for immediate judicial intervention.

The better course of action is to hire an attorney to file a verified claim for court action. The verified claim starts a 90 day deadline. During that time, DEA has to turn the case over to an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) in the forfeiture unit. The AUSA has to decide whether to file a "complaint for forfeiture" in the U.S. District Court, or just return all the money.

We work hard to show the AUSA all of the reasons that the money should be returned, including a showing that the initial detention was illegal from its inception. First, TSA is not supposed to provide "tips" to DEA that a traveler is carrying a large amount of cash. Secondly, DEA agents are not supposed to surround a traveler and start questioning them about how much money they are carrying.

DEA agents make all kinds of mistakes that violate a traveler's rights. If the initial detention was not "free and voluntary," then the DEA agent needed a search warrant to conduct the search. Without a warrant or consent, then the search and seizure was illegal.

Over the years, the DEA has gotten very good at seizing currency from unsuspecting travelers. Many of these travelers have very good reasons for carrying the cash that has nothing to do with drugs or money laundering. The net being cast by DEA is often too wide and entraps innocent people.

Attorney for DEA Seizures of U.S. Currency at the JFK Airport

If your money was taken by a Special Agent of the Drug Enforcement (DEA) in New York working at the JFK International Airport, attorney Rochelle Berliner can help. Find out more about the best way to contest an illegal seizure of U.S. Currency. Attorney Rochelle Berliner also handles currency seizures involving the special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Attorney Rochelle Berliner understands the importance of quickly preserving any video surveillance recordings from DEA, CBP, the airport authorities, or the airlines. A court order is often required to get the surveillance video at the JFK International Airport. Obtaining the video is often the best way to show whether the TSA agent acted improperly by providing the "secret tip" and whether the DEA agent acted illegally when detaining the traveler.

Ms. Berliner can help you obtain a copy of any surveillance video at the JFK airport showing the way you were detained. The video surveillance needs to be obtained from the airport authorities within 30 days of the incident. Sometimes, a court order is required to preserve the video. For the JFK or LaGuardia airport, the preservation letter is sent to the FOI Administrator, 4 World Trade Center, 150 Greenwich Street, 25th Floor, New York NY 10007 or

Trying to get the money back is rarely a good-do-it yourself project. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not fully explain the different options or the pros and cons of each approach. People often ask for an extension of the deadline to submit a claim only to be denied any relief at all. Another mistake people make is sending the claim, but not getting it to the DEA on time.

If the claim isn't verified or doesn't contain all of the statutorily required information, then the claim will be quickly denied. Filing the claim on time is not the only challenge. In fact, filing the claim is just the beginning. An attorney can investigate the facts of the case, find favorable evidence, and show the AUSA all the reasons that 100% of the money should be returned.

Instead of fighting the DEA currency seizure case yourself, hire an experienced attorney who can represent you during each stage of the process. By helping you file a verified claim for a judicial referral for court action, attorney Rochelle Berliner can help you fight to get the money back and make sure your rights are protected at each stage of the process.

Call 718-261-5600 today.

Statistics on Recent Cash Seizures by the New York DEA Office

Although the traffic at the AFK airport is down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of money being seized is up. The DEA special agents have also become more aggressive in soliciting tips from TSA screeners who detect cash on unsuspecting travelers.

In April and May of 2020, the New York Post reported that investigators from the New York DEA office seized more than sixteen million dollars ($16,000,000). During the same period in the prior year, DEA seized only five million dollars ($5,000,000). During the first two weeks of June of 2020, DEA agents seized $3,100,000 compared to $1,200,000 in 2019.

This article was last updated on Monday, October 19, 2020.

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Rochelle Berliner
Rochelle Berliner

Rochelle Berliner grew up in Queens, NY. She started New York Law School in January 1989 and graduated in June 1991. Immediately after law school, she started working at the New York County District Attorney’s Office, where she stayed for approximately 14 years...

  • National Police Accountability Project
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
  • New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
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