HSI Cash Seizures for Forfeiture

Did you receive a letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding the seizure of property for forfeiture?

Many of these actions involve Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The agency combats criminal organizations exploiting the immigration system, as well as trade, travel, and trade. Investigations with HSI involve support staff, auditors, analysts, and special agents.

Many seizures of cash at airports are conducted by agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI agents also seize suspected illicit cash from travelers at train stations, bus stations, and on the highways throughout the United States.

The basic theory behind the seizure requires that the HSI agents legally discovered “probable cause” that the money was involved in the drug trade or a money-laundering scheme. Yet the procedures used in civil asset forfeiture cases mean that innocent people might be caught up in the process based on highly circumstantial evidence.

After a cash seizure by an HSI agent, the matter is sent to a local Fines, Penalties & Forfeitures Officer with United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The best way to get the seized money back is to hire an attorney to help you bypass the CBP administrative proceedings for mitigation and remission. Instead, an attorney can help you challenge the legality of the seizure by making a claim that demands court action. In fact, filing the claim for court action is the ONLY way to contest the legality of the way the money was confiscated.

The verified claim and demand for court action will trigger a 90-day deadline for an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) in the civil asset forfeiture division of the appropriate jurisdiction to investigate the case and either return the money or file a complaint for forfeiture in federal court.

Attorney for HSI Seizures and Forfeitures in Tampa, FL

If your U.S. currency or other property was seized by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), then contact an experienced federal forfeiture attorney in Tampa, FL, at Sammis Law Firm.

We are particularly experienced with the seizure of U.S. currency (cash or money) by an HSI agent taken at the airport before a domestic or international flight at the airport, including cash seizures at the Tampa International Airport and across Florida and the rest of the United States.

Over the years, we have helps clients and co-counseled with other attorneys across the county in airport seizure cases involving HSI and CBP. Let us put our experience to work for you.

Contact us to discuss why Homeland Security and the U.S. Government might have trouble meeting its burden of proof at trial. Specifically, that the Defendant Funds are subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) for one of the following reasons: 1) the money was furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance in violation of the Controlled Substances Act; 2) the proceeds were traceable to such an exchange; and/or 3) the money was used or intended to be used to facilitate a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

If you received a receipt or notice letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding the seizure of property for forfeiture, then contact an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney at Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, FL. 

Call 813-250-0500.

Examples of HSI Investigations

Special Agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) have the authority to investigate and enforce several federal statutes involving criminal activity that might cross borders including:

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was created to combat criminal threats facing the United States through the following types of actions:

  • the seizures of illicit drugs and the money used on intended to be used in the drug trade;
  • criminal prosecutions in federal court;
  • the issuance of search warrants;
  • the seizures of good and merchandise for intellectual property rights violations; and
  • the seizure of weapons and ammunition.

When agents with Homeland Security Investigations seize money at the airport, they often allege “probable cause” to believe the 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.

After Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) takes custody of the funds, it remains in the custody of the United States. If a complaint is filed, then as required by Supp’l Rule G(3)(b)(i), the Clerk of Court must issue a warrant to arrest the Defendant Funds if they are in the government’s possession, custody, or control.

Drug Dogs Used Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at the Airport

Agents with HSI will often use a narcotics detection dog that will positively alert to the presence of the odor of drugs on the currency (even though no drugs are actually found). Most HSI dogs are only trained to detect the odor of six controlled substances: marijuana, cocaine HCL, cocaine base, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

HSI will argue that individuals who handle controlled substances often get traces of the substances on their hands and clothing. The theory is that trace amounts of a controlled substance can easily be spread to other items the individual touches such as currency.

HSI will argue that 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.

Some courts reject this theory completely. Others look at the dog’s training, the handler’s training, and the totality of the circumstances before giving any weight to such evidence.

Factors Considered by HSI in Airport Money Seizure Cases

When looking for probable cause, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will look at a number of factors including:

  • the sheer quantity of cash;
  • the way the cash was transported;
  • whether the case was packaged with rubber bands or concealed within the luggage in an unusual way;
  • whether the person was flying to a source state for marijuana including California, Washington, or Oregon;
  • whether the person purchased the airline ticket shortly before the trip;
  • whether a one way or two-way ticket;
  • whether the person planned to stay for a short or long period;
  • whether a drug detection dog alerted to the currency;
  • whether the person had other items in the bag other than the currency such as clothes, underwear, and toiletries;
  • whether the person gave a reasonable explanation for having so much money and the reason for the trip;
  • whether the person had significant income or their tax return in prior years; or
  • whether the person has a prior criminal record related to drug trafficking or money laundering.

Additional Resources

HSI Asset Forfeiture Branch – Visit the website of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to learn more about how Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seizes money or other property for forfeiture. The seizures by Special Agents with Homeland Security Investigations often involve allegations of smuggling narcotics, weapons, or other contraband or transporting bulk cash for financial crimes or money laundering. The asset forfeiture program uses HSI’s efforts to identify this property that represents the proceeds of crime or is being used to facilitate federal violations under the investigative jurisdiction of HSI. The forfeiture of assets is used by Special Agents with ICE and HCI as a sanction in criminal, civil, and administrative investigative activities.

This article was last updated on Monday, March 21, 2022.