Overview of Cash Seizures by Federal Agencies
It was in the 1980s that the US government first created what is known as the Asset Forfeiture Fund and Equitable Sharing program. The idea behind this effort was to remove much of the profit from criminal activity. Since those early days more than 30 years, cash seizure and forfeiture has greatly increased at many federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, US Customs, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.
The great increase in cash seizure and forfeiture can be seen when you conduct a review of Department of Justice data from 2004 until 2015. From 2004-7 the total amount of cash that was seized went from $100 to more than $1 billion. This decreased a bit in 2008 with the financial slowdown, but the amount of cash that was seized was roughly level from 2009-12 before it went back up to $975 million in 2013.
Cash seizures started to drop again to $585 million in 2014, and this basic trend continued last year. California routinely has the most cash seized by federal agencies and state and local police, followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
However, a close look at the data shows that the largest states do not always have the most cash seized. In 2007 and 2012, Virginia had the highest amount of cash seized, with $310 million and $205 million. Also, in 2007, FDA seized more than $275 million in three separate seizures. In 2012 alone, the US Attorney’s Office seized in excess of $200 million in just Virginia.
Below is more information about the cash seizure policies in operation at major federal agencies.
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
According to a report in February 2014, the Office of National Drug Control Policy or ONDCP found that from 2000-10, Americans spent more than $100 billion each year on heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. This does not count how much Americans spent on many other illegal drugs made from plants and synthetic substances.
DEA knows that there are not sufficient law enforcement resources to deal with all drug related activity in the US. That is why the DEA targets sources of funds that flow back to the original drug supply source, as that money is what will finance the next shipments of drugs. The DEA’s cash seizure policies are developed with this in mind.
DEA states that it views all investigations of illegal drug proceeds as a vital part of all drug investigations. Agents at DEA are trained to follow the money in major drug transactions. They use that money as a tool to find and investigate where drugs are sourced from. Then, they attempt to disrupt the financial infrastructure of major drug rings by seizing their cash in busts and raids.
There is no doubt that the entire reason criminals sell drugs is to make money. So, DEA will always use cash seizure as a primary means to put drug traffickers out of business.
US Customs and Border Protection
US law provides no limit to the amount of currency anyone can bring into or out of the United States. The only requirement is that travelers report sums that are $10,000 or greater. US law which is enforced by US Customs requires that all international travelers report any currency in their possession that is $10,000 or greater when entering or leaving the US. The purpose behind this law is to ensure that there is adequate accounting of all large sums of currency entering or leaving the US to provide a way to decrease organized crime.
Anyone who is entering or leaving the US with more than that amount has to fill out the form FinCEN 105 – Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments. Negotiable monetary instruments include:
- Personal checks that have been endorsed
- Travelers’ checks
- Gold coins
- Stocks in bearer form
Last year, US Customs seized more than $81 million in illicit currency at US border entries and exits.
Department of Homeland Security
DHS, in cooperation with US Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), identifies, investigates and disrupts any bulk cash smuggling operation in the US and around the world. It operates a National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center in Williston VT.
Tougher federal laws against money laundering have forced most criminal organizations to move large sums of money outside of banks and other traditional financial channels. To avoid law enforcement detection, many criminal organizations smuggle money into, out of and throughout the US.
Just in 2013, ICE HSI special agents arrested more than 500 people and seized cash in excess of $59 million
The PATRIOT Act, enacted right after 9/11, made smuggling bulk cash internationally a federal crime. From 2003 until 2013 ICE HSI seized more than $543 million in cash and arrested 2300 people.