Seizure of Cash at Orlando International Airport MCO

What happens if the police or federal agents with Homeland Security at the Orlando International Airport (MCO) discover that you are carrying a large sum of cash?

If the authorities find the cash in your wallet, carry-on bag, or checked luggage, then they might confiscate or seize the money for a civil asset forfeiture proceeding under state or federal law.

Find a list of our recent case results for seizures to forfeit money seized at the airport in Orlando, FL.

To get the money back, contact an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney at Sammis Law Firm. We can help you filed a verified claim challenging the forfeiture with the agency that seized the property. Your attorney can file the claim for court action IMMEDIATELY after the seizure even if:

  • the receipt says “undetermined amount” or U.S. Currency;
  • no receipt was provided; or
  • you signed a “notice of abandonment and assent to forfeiture” form.

The cash might be discovered when the carry-on bag goes through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) scanner at Orlando International Airport. TSA screeners sometimes give secret tips to law enforcement officers when they discover a traveler is carrying cash.

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), might seize the cash while working with local police officers and TSA screeners.

After alleging a violation of 18 U.S.C. 981, the agent might issue a “custody receipt for seized property and evidence” using DHS Form 6051S that references handbook 5200-09.

In some cases, the agent might even demand that you sign a “Notice of Abandonment of Assent to Forfeiture of Prohibited or Seized Merchandise” citing 19 CFR Part 162 (DHS Form 4607), although it is highly improper for them to do so.

Attorney for Bulk Cash Seizure at the Airport in Orlando, FL

Law enforcement officers have become more aggressive when taking money from a traveler’s wallet, carry-on luggage, or checked baggage. If law enforcement officers seized your money at the airport, how do you get my money back?

If your cash was taken at the Orlando International Airport, then contact attorney Leslie Sammis to help you get the cash returned as quickly as possible.

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm fight asset forfeiture cases and understand civil asset forfeiture procedures under federal law. Leslie Sammis and the attorneys at the firm are particularly experienced with civil asset forfeiture cases at the airport, including the procedures used at the international airport in Orlando, FL.

In these cases, we take the following steps:

  • First, we notify the agent that took the money that we are demanding “early judicial intervention” or “immediate court action” as soon as we are retained.
  • Second, in accordance with Section 119.12, Florida Statutes, we send a preservation letter to the Director of Board Services Greater Orlando Aviation Authority so that all of the surveillance videos of the search and seizure can be preserved.
  • Third, we obtain a court order to force the authorities at the airport to release that video which often shows the unreasonable nature of the actions taken by the agent.
  • Fourth, we obtain records from the agency that seized the cash showing how often they use this tactic to seize money from other travelers to show any patterns of behavior that deviate from their standard operating procedures.
  • Fifth, we use this information to convince the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) to return the money instead of filing a complaint for forfeiture.

Our forfeiture attorneys are familiar with the standard operating procedures used by special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and other law enforcement officers when conducting investigations for bulk cash smuggling at local airports in Florida.

HSI Special Agents often ask for a signature on Form 4607 for the notice of abandonment and assent to forfeiture of prohibited or seized merchandise, although signing that form does not prevent you from immediately filing a claim for court action. Claims for seizures in Orlando, FL, are funneled to the Office of Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures, in Tampa, Florida.

If your money was seized at an airport in Florida, then you need an aggressive civil asset forfeiture defense attorney to get it back.

Call 813-250-0500 to discuss your case today.

What Happens During a Seizure of Cash at the Orlando Airport?

When TSA discovers a large amount of bundled currency in a carry-on bag as it goes through the screening process at the security checkpoint in the Orlando International Airport, that information might be passed on to law enforcement officers with:

  • Orlando Police Department (OPD);
  • Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI);
  • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI);
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP); or
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The law enforcement officers with OPD, MBI, HSI, CBP, or DEA, sometimes work together to investigate these cases at the airport. The cases often involve a fact pattern in which the agent will allege that the traveler voluntarily decided to talk to the agents and answer questions about the money.

In many of these cases, we can show why the traveler was illegally detained, questioned, interrogated, and searched.

For this reason, it is important that we obtain the surveillance video from the airport to show that the detention was not free and voluntary. The video might also show the officers engaging in an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment without a search warrant or any other legal basis.

In these cases, the authorities often interrogate the traveler about the reasons for carrying the cash. The officers almost never read Miranda warnings before they start asking questions.

The agents will determine whether the subject recently purchased the airline ticket or only purchased a one-way ticket. The agents believe that it is common for drug traffickers and money couriers to purchase tickets with a short amount of time prior to traveling.

The amount of cash seized might be compared to the subject’s earnings on his or her last tax return. Based on these factors, the agents might decide to seize or confiscate the money for administrative forfeiture.

After the money is taken, a written verified claim can be filed for “early judicial intervention” or “immediate court action.” After the written verified claim is received by the agency holding the property, the agency is required to send the case to the United States Attorney’s Office.

An Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) will determine whether to immediately return the money or to seek permanent forfeiture of the money by filing a lawsuit against the “Defendant Funds” in federal court. That’s right, they actually name the “Defendant Funds” as the defendant.

You have a right to file a claim and fight the forfeiture even if the agent required you to sign the DHS Form 4607 entitled “Notice of Abandonment of Assent to Forfeiture of Prohibited or Seized Merchandise.” Form 4607 references 19 CFR Part 162 and provides:

“I hereby abandon all claims to the above-described merchandise, and waive any further rights or proceedings relative to these articles.”

The agents know it is improper to ask a traveler to sign this abandonment form, but they do it anyway because it discourages people from hiring an attorney or contesting the seizure.

Information on the Orlando International Airport (MCO)

Located six miles to the southeast of downtown Orlando, the Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the busiest airport in Florida and the 10th busiest airport in the United States. The airport code is MCO which was derived from the airport’s former name, McCoy Air Force Base.

With more than 13,000 acres, MCO is the largest commercial airport by land area in the United States. The greater Orlando area is also served by the Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). Our asset forfeiture attorneys also handle seizures of cash at:

  • Tampa International Airport (TPA);
  • St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport (PIE);
  • Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB);
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)

To obtain a copy of the surveillance video of the seizure of currency or other valuable property from a passenger, the request must be made in accordance with Section 119.12, Florida Statutes.

The public record request is sent to the Custodian of Records for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, Director of Board Services, at One Jeff Fuqua Boulevard in Orlando, FL. For seizures at the Orlando International Airport, the local authorities work with federal agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

At the airport, law enforcement officers with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), work with TSA screeners to find travelers carrying large amounts of cash.

A recent study shows that between 2000–2016, the authorities conducted 580 seizures of currency at the Orlando International Airport (MCO) and seized $65,683,374. The seizures have continued to increase each year, even during the COVID-19 crisis when the number of travelers at the airport decreased.

When the Government Files a Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem

If the AUSA files a certified complaint for forfeiture in rem, the complaint is filed in accordance with Rule G(2), Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions.

The civil action in rem to forfeit to the United States of America, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 88l(a)(6) the property seized, including currency seized from a traveler at the airport. The federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction over civil asset forfeiture cases pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1355.

The Defendant Funds is the property seized. In many of these cases, the “Defendant Funds” is the U.S. currency seized from a traveler at the airport.

If law enforcement officers at the Orlando International Airport (OIA) seized your money for a forfeiture proceeding, the law enforcement officers will claim there was probable cause to believe that the U.S. currency (the “Defendant Funds”) pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) constituted: 

  • money furnished or intended to be furnished by a person in exchange for a controlled substance in violation of the Controlled Substances Act;
  • proceeds traceable to such an exchange; or
  • money used or intended to be used to facilitate a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

At the Orlando International Airport (OIA), agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) might take custody of the Defendant Funds, which remain in the custody of the United States. As set forth in Rule G(3)(b)(i), the Clerk of Court must issue a warrant to arrest the Defendant Funds if the money is in the government’s possession, custody, or control.

The complaint will show facts and circumstances supporting the forfeiture of the Defendant Funds as provided by an HSI Special Agent. The investigation will often begin with the screeners at the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) contacting the Orlando Police Department (OPD) when they discover a traveler in possession of a large amount of U.S. currency or other valuable property.

The officers with the Orlando Police Department (OPD) will then respond to the TSA screening area to further investigate. OPD’s interactions with TSA, are often video recorded by officer-worn body cameras, but that video evidence must be requested from each custodian of those records to make sure it is preserved.

The law enforcement officers with the local police station or federal agents might then inform the traveler that the suitcase had been flagged and that the traveler can either catch the flight or talk with investigators about the contents of the suitcase or the money being detained.

The local law enforcement officers or federal agents might then escort the traveler to the Orlando Police Department (OPD) substation at the airport. Although the traveler might be told they are “free to leave,” as a practical matter a traveler cannot leave their possessions or valuable property behind.

In many of these cases, the officers or agents will conduct a recorded interview. After explaining that TSA had found an anomaly in the carry-on luggage or checked suitcase during the screening process, the agent will allege that the property found is “contraband.”

The subject will be asked about where the money can from, and where the traveler came from and is going to. The agent might ask who packed the suitcase or carry-on baggage. The agent might also ask whether the money found belongs to the traveler or someone else. The agent might ask for “consent” to go through the luggage which is not free or voluntary consent under those circumstances.

The officer might say that a dog alerted to the money in their attempt to connect it with drug money. In fact, law enforcement officers at the Orlando International Airport often use a trained narcotics detection dog to positively alerted to the presence of the odor of drugs on money or luggage.

The K9 dogs are trained to detect the odor of six controlled substances: cannabis, cocaine HCL, cocaine base, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

The theory behind the dog alert is based on an assumption that individuals who handle controlled substances often get traces of the substances on their hands and clothing. These trace amounts of a controlled substance can easily be spread to other items the individual touches such as currency.

A positive alert to U.S. currency by a properly trained dog indicates that the currency had either been handled by someone who had trace amounts of a controlled substance on their hands, or the currency had recently been in close proximity to a controlled substance.

In recent years, the courts have started to find that the dog sniff is utterly pointless since most states allow the consumption of marijuanna.

Because of the suspicious nature in which the money was found, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) might decide to seize it. After the seizure of money from the airport, the seized money is taken to Loomis Financial Services where it was counted.

The official count is recorded along with the specific denominations of the bills found. The agent will often allege that the specific denomination amounts are consistent with street-level drug sales.

As required by Supp’l Rule G(2)(f), the AUSA will allege that the facts set forth in the complaint support a reasonable belief that the government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial. Specifically, probable cause exists to believe that the Defendant Funds constitute:

  • money furnished or intended to be furnished by a person in exchange for a controlled substance in violation of the Controlled Substances Act;
  • proceeds traceable to such an exchange; or
  • money used or intended to be used to facilitate a violation of the Controlled Substances Act and are therefore subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §881(a)(6).

In the complaint, the United States of America will requests that:

  • process of the forfeiture be issued against the Defendant Funds;
  • that due notice be given to all interested parties to appear and show cause why the forfeiture should not be decreed;
  • that the Defendant Funds be forfeited to the United States for disposition according to law; and
  • that the United States have such other and further relief as this case may require.

Cash Seizures by an Orlando Police Airport Operations Officer

Many of the seizures at the airport involve the Orlando Police Department and an Orlando Police Airport Operations Officer (AOO). Employment positions as an Orlando Police Airport Operations Officer are coveted positions with a competitive salary, generous retirement benefits, educational reimbursements, medical and life insurance, paid time off, and bonuses.

The final requirements to become an AOO include completing a 5-week orientation program. The AOOs must sign a temporary civilian contract for the period of the 5-week orientation. After completing the orientation, the AOO will revert to a 36-hour a week schedule and will receive their hourly rate based on the yearly salary.

The Orlando Police Airport Operations Officer (AOO) must successfully complete the 10-14 week field training program at the Orlando International Airport.

Additional Resources

Orlando Airport Cash Seizure for Forfeiture – Read an article dated October 5, 2018, in the Orlando Sentinel about why the federal government wants to keep $129,000 in money suspected of being used for drug trafficking. The money was seized at the Orlando International Airport by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the forfeiture then proceeds to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before being sent to the United States Attorney’s Office if court action is requested.

This article was last updated on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.