Cops Can Steal Your Cash At The Airport Even If You've Done Nothing Wrong

A roll of cash sitting on an airport's rolling sidewalk
A roll of cash sitting on an airport's rolling sidewalk

We’re not exactly strangers to the concept of civil asset forfeiture, but that doesn’t mean it stops being frustrating to read about people having their things stolen for no reason. Take, for example, the car broker highlighted in a recent Atlanta News First article. He was flying from Washington, D.C. to Sacramento, California and had a connection through Atlanta. As he was boarding his flight to Sacramento, officers with the drug task force pulled him aside and proceeded to take $23,850 in cash from one of his bags.

Did he have any drugs in his possession? Nope. Had he actually done anything illegal? Nope. A TSA agent just saw he had cash in his bag and narc-ed on him. The cops said his bags smelled like weed, so they just took his money. He was never arrested or charged with a crime, and recreational marijuana is legal in D.C. By flying “from Atlanta, a known drug hub city, to Sacramento, California, a known drug source city,” the prosecutor claimed that was enough of a reason to warrant taking his cash.

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There is no method of transporting cash or storing cash that police will not say triggers probable cause. This person was wearing his shoes on his feet, and that’s something that’s a common characteristic of drug traffickers. Of course he was, because that’s how everyone wears shoes. This guy had money in an envelope, and that’s a characteristic of drug traffickers. It’s also a characteristic of how many other people transport cash.


There is a strong incentive for law enforcement to try to get as much money as it can into what I would call a slush fund. They can spend the money on whatever they want. And that encourages them to spend the money pursuing more forfeiture dollars. Essentially, it is a self-perpetuating, revenue-generating machine.

So that’s fun. We’d love to believe that the Supreme Court is going to step in and stop this nonsense soon, but something tells us that’s not going to happen. Not while cops remain so powerful and politically influential.

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