In October of last year, a 64 year old man residing in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio was stripped of his life savings when he was robbed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the airport.
Now he is suing Customs for confiscating his hard earned $58,000 in savings, taken without him being charged with any crime at all.
That’s called asset forfeiture: if you travel with large amounts of money in America, you could be permanently robbed by the state. It’s not much better in other countries, in Australia they are trying to ban purchases of over $10,000 in cash.
The federal lawsuit was filed this week in Ohio, and every lawsuit of this kind should be supported to the maximum because “asset forfeiture” is a serious problem.
In 2017, over $2 billion in assets were stolen from people by federal authorities. Asset forfeiture also justifies the government’s acquisition of property, in addition to money. They can basically rob you of whatever they want if they find a way to justify it, or the particular agents of the state who do it are in a bad mood.
If you compare that $2 billion confiscated to the estimated annual loss of people’s property and money collectively from residential burglaries in the United States, it’s not far off.
How did Customs justify this highway robbery? Without evidence they claim the old man, Rustem Kazazi, was involved in either money laundering, smuggling, or drug trafficking. The man denies these baseless accusations, and insists that the government agency is in violation of federal law by keeping his money without any charges or formal complaints being filed.
The man’s Albanian heritage is probably a factor that influenced him appearing as an easy target. Kazazi is a retired Albanian police officer who came to the United States with his family after receiving visas through the State Department’s lottery program in 2005. In 2010, they became citizens officially.
Last fall, he planned a trip to his home country of Albania to visit relatives and purchase a vacation home with that money when it was taken.
To purchase a vacation home in their native country, the family saved together for 12 years. That money was earned by Kazazi, his wife Lejla, and his son Erald who is currently working on a chemical engineering degree at Cleveland State University, as stated in the lawsuit.
Due to concerns of safety, the man decided to bring cash rather than wire funds to a local bank in Albania.
“The crime [in Albania] is much worse than it is here,” he noted. “Other people that have made large withdrawals [from Albanian banks] have had people intercept them and take their money. The exchange rates and fees are [also] excessive.”
At Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the man brought cash in three counted, labeled, and carefully documented bundles in his carry-on bag. He even made sure to include receipts from recent bank withdrawals and documentation to prove that his family owned property in the capital of Albania, Tirana.
“They asked me some questions, which I could not understand as they spoke too quickly,” according to Kazazi’s legal statement. “I asked them for an interpreter and asked to call my family, but they denied my request.”
After TSA found he had money, agents of CBP led the man to a small room with no windows and they searched him and his belongings multiple times. After instructing him to take off his clothing, he was forced to sit naked in a blanket while a man wearing gloves strip searched him.
“I began to worry that they were trying to steal the money for themselves,” he admitted.
The amount that authorities claim they stole from him wasn’t even correct. The money was all in $100 bills, making their official sum of $57,330 impossible. Almost $700 was missing from the official account.
Some say a “war on cash” is starting to unfold. In Australia, the government is trying to ban purchases of over $10,000 in cash. It’s already uncommon to use any bills larger than $50 in Australia, and $50 AUD is equal to merely $37.84 USD. According to News.com.au:
“The days of cash-for-less discounts are officially coming to an end.
The government has introduced an economy-wide cash payment limit of $10,000 to keep dishonest tradies and businesses from rorting the system by taking cash in hand.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said the Black Economy Standing Taskforce will be beefed up to detect people making sneaky cash transactions through a rigorous identification system and “mobile strike teams”.”
That’s particularly ridiculous because crime is incredibly tame and uncommon in the country.
People shouldn’t be subject to justifying their activities and lives just because the government claims they look suspicious.