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Was your money seized at Miami International Airport? If so, we may be able to help!
Brian Silber is a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney who helps people recover money seized by law enforcement. Located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we help people across the country with Federal Asset Forfeiture as well as forfeitures brought under Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Money seized at Miami International Airport is not necessarily lost forever. Read this page to learn important information about how to get it back.
How Do I Get My Money Back?
When I build a case for a new client, especially when their case concerns money seized at Miami International Airport, I reflect on my experience as a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney and my knowledge of criminal law. Unlike other cases that are distinctly criminal (like murder) or distinctly civil (like personal injury), Civil Forfeiture is a hybrid of both.
To begin, you need to understand the difference between “Asset Seizure” and “Asset Forfeiture”.
First an “asset” is anything of value that you own. It can be a boat, your house, jewelry, artwork, cash, or funds in a bank account. Second, the term “seizure” refers to the act of taking possession of a person’s property by the Government.
If you had money seized at Miami International Airport, odds are U.S. Customs and Border Protection was the agency that “seized” it.
Third, the term “forfeiture” refers to the legal process used by the Government to obtain formal ownership of property it has seized. Taking your money at the airport is one thing – having the legal right to own it is something very different.
This leads me to the the most important part… Before the Government can forfeit your money, it must prove at least one of the following:
- Your money was used to commit a crime
- Your money was earned from crime
For example, a boat used to smuggle cocaine can be forfeited because it was used to commit a crime. Equally, money earned from selling cocaine can be forfeited because it was earned from crime.
Therefore, to succeed at Civil Forfeiture defense, I begin each case with two basic questions:
- Where did the money come from?
- What was the money used for?
However, this is where things get complicated.
Proving a Legitimate Source of Income
This is why you need a lawyer. Civil Forfeiture defense is complicated and takes more than documentation to win. Even though the law gives you the opportunity to fight back, it is not structured to help you win.
This is especially so when innocent people, who had legitimately earned money seized at Miami International Airport, are not able to document the source of their income. This is especially true if you work in a cash business, like bartenders, retail shop owners, exotic dancers, and those in the legal marijuana business. It also applies to those who have legally earned gambling winnings at licensed and legally operated casinos.
At the start of every case, we work closely with our clients to build an armory of documentation. The types and quantity of documents needed varies from case to case, situation to situation. Giving me the right documentation gives me the ammunition I need to fight in court. Documents by themselves do not save the day – it is more about how I am able to use them to defend against forfeiture.
Proving a Legitimate Use of Seized Money
Things get even more complicated when we try to prove what the money was used for. Sometimes this requires one to prove a negative – which is typically impossible, until we get involved and find an unconventional way to prove something that is not ordinarily documented.
There are a million reasons why someone may carry a lot of cash – some clients were traveling to buy a car and brought cash with them because it commands a better price, other clients travel with large sums of cash because they are going to or coming from casinos, other clients travel with large sums of cash because they completed a legitimate employment that paid them in cash.
In cases like these where documentation is scarce or non-existent, our investigators may seek out and obtain eye witness testimony, alternative documentation, or other evidence like phone records, emails, social media messaging, and the like that may prove indirectly what the money was going to be used for.
The more evidence we can produce that proves you had a legitimate use for your money, the more ammunition I have to fight your case in court.
Why Do I Need an Attorney?
In 2016 alone, the U.S. Government deposited nearly $2 Billion Dollars of forfeited money. Of that $2 Billion, approximately $75 Million Dollars was deposited from forfeitures originating in Florida. These figures do not include money forfeited by Florida law enforcement agencies, pursuant to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
The U.S. Government is keeping such enormous sums of money because the public does not know how to fight back.
Having the right documentation is only half the game. It is even less when your paperwork is incomplete.
To succeed at Civil Forfeiture Defense, you need to be an expert in criminal law, such as search and seizure law, as well as an expert in civil procedure and evidence. You need to be comfortable in the courtroom and know how to make a winning argument to a judge and how to present a winning case to a jury.
Additionally, success in Civil Forfeiture Defense requires someone with tremendous experience identifying which legal issues are key and which are irrelevant. Not only do you have to know how to fight, but you also need to know what issues to fight about. Picking the right battles and framing a case the right way is key to success.
In my experience, being able to “speak prosecutor” is also a required skill. As a former prosecutor myself, I know the pressure prosecutors face and I know the rules they must follow. Framing a case so that it conforms with their office policy and the constraints of their position is tantamount to getting them to do what you want.
These cases are extremely complicated and require overlapping skills on an expert level, including:
- Civil Forfeiture Law
- Substantive Criminal Law
- Police Investigative Methods
- Police Operating Procedure
- Constitutional Due Process
- Search and Seizure Law
- Rules of Criminal Procedure
- Rules of Civil Procedure
- Rules of Evidence
- Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions
- Civil Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000
Additionally, one must also have extensive professional experience handling the following:
- Jury Trials and Bench Trials
- Admission of Evidence in a Court Proceeding
- Cross-Examination of Adverse Witnesses
- Preservation of Evidence
- Deposition Testimony
- Identifying Civil Discovery Needs
- Responding to Civil Discovery Requests
- Courtroom Argument to Judges
- Case Negotiation with Prosecutors
- Litigation Experience Involving Law Enforcement
Literally, the worst thing a claimant could do next to doing nothing, is attempt to fight a Civil Forfeiture case on their own.
Be smart and give yourself the best chance possible of getting your money back: Hire a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney.
Common Defenses We Use
Aside from building a defense predicated on documentation and other evidence that proves you are legitimate and not a criminal, we also attack the prosecutions case using other methods. Depending on the facts of your case, a legal issue impacting the outcome may be found when we analyze the details and uncover some latent legal issues, including:
- Illegal Search and Seizure
- Unlawful Interrogation
- Innocent Owner Defense
- Statute of Limitations
- Excessive Fines Defense
- Third Party Claim
- Legitimate Source Defense
- Legitimate Use Defense
- Procedural Defense
- Notice Requirement Defense
- Color of Law Defense
Everyone’s case is different and the applicability of any one particular defense can vary. Once retained by a new client, we immediately begin a case analysis and background investigation to identify the legal issues, develop a case theory, and craft a defense.
Why Did this Happen to Me?
If you had money seized at the Miami International Airport, you are probably wondering why. After all, you were not arrested, you did not have any drugs or weapons on you, and you didn’t do anything wrong.
People targeted by law enforcement at the airport for money seizure typically satisfy at least 2-3 of the following criteria:
- Were flying on a one-way ticket
- Bought their ticket within 72 hours of flying
- Traveling to or from a marijuana legal state
- Are male, between the ages of 18-40
- Have a criminal record for drug offenses
- Failed to Declare $10,000 or More When Entering/Leaving the U.S.
Law enforcement uses confidential methods that likely include computer analysis, to identify passengers who meet this criteria or at least part of it. When a target passenger is flagged in this manner, agents will initiate a more comprehensive investigation that may include:
- Criminal background check using the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC)
- Agency criminal intelligence database search
- Warrants Check
- Social Media Search
- Google Name Search
Whether they find additional information or not, odds are law enforcement will try to make contact with the flagged passenger.Typically this will happen at the gate either before the flight takes off or when it lands.
These encounters begin with plain clothes agents presenting you with their credentials so you know who you are talking to. They will immediately advise you that you are not in any kind of trouble. Sometimes they will tell you that you are even free to leave.
Of course you are in an airport and don’t want to make a commotion, so you naturally agree to speak with them. Don’t feel bad, everyone does.
Once you agree to speak with them, the agents will ask you a slew of questions, including:
- Where are you traveling to?
- Where are you traveling from?
- Are you traveling alone or with another person?
- Can we see your ID and ticket?
- Did you pack your own bags?
- Did you check any luggage?
- Do you have any weapons, narcotics, or large sums of currency?
At this point, regardless of what you answered, they will ALWAYS ask to search your bags.
In fact, the entire point of their conversation is to get you talking, collect some basic information, and provide a lead in for the big question – can we search?! Naturally you say yes, because you want to cooperate and think there is no problem because you haven’t done anything wrong.
Police then search your bags, find your money, and seize it. Odds are a K-9 was also brought to sniff your luggage or money.
This is probably how you had money seized at Miami International Airport. If not, you probably fall within the next category… failure to declare cash $10,000 or more.
Failure to Declare $10,000 or More in Cash
The rule that requires travelers to declare $10,000 or more in cash at the airport is one of the most misunderstood rules on the books. First of all, there is absolutely NOTHING illegal about carrying your cash. You can carry as much of your cash as you want. You can travel with it to and from any U.S. state as well as into and out of the United States.
The only rule that a traveler must comply with is the declaration rule.
If you cross the international border that separates the United States from the rest of the world, whether you are entering the United States or leaving it, you must declare cash amounts of $10,000 or more. This amounts to nothing more than filling out a form or clicking a screen at a kiosk.
Failure to declare will almost always result in seizure of your money. In fact, the more money you have, the more likely U.S. Customs and Border Protection is to seize it.
Needless to say, we have had success recovering money seized at Miami International Airport by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. These cases are challenging, but that does not mean the money is lost.
Money Seized at Miami International Airport? Call Us!
Have a question about money seized at Miami International Airport? Reach out on our Contact Us page or call: 954-462-3636
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