Vu Do, the owner of two nails salons in New York City, had saved up just over $43,000 -- his life-savings of twenty years. In February, he boarded a plane to California with that money in tow. He wanted to give it to his brothers, who had fallen upon hard times.
But, as TechDirt reports, Do never got to give them those savings—because the DEA seized it, without ever granting him a hearing or charging him with a crime.
Under civil asset forfeiture law, this is all perfectly legal—law enforcement can seize allegedly “suspicious” property without ever formally charging its owners. They treat the property guilty until proven innocent.
And, as Heritage’s Jason Snead recounts, since Do missed the government’s arbitrary complaint-filing deadline, his money is now the official property of the U.S. government.
The government’s seizure notice claimed the money was taken “because the property was used or acquired as a result of a violation of the Controlled Substances Act”—but offered no further details or evidence of this supposedly illegal activity.
In his complaint, Do noted that he has operated two nail salons for years and has never been arrested or convicted of a single misdemeanor or felony. Unfortunately, none of that matters— Do, like countless victims of asset seizure before him, is no match for the government’s well-laid bureaucracy. Many victims of unjust seizures are forced to forfeit their possessions rather than risk wasting even more money in legal fees.
Even though there is no law against transporting large amounts of money between states, the government frequently targets cash-toting travelers for seizures.
In a similar case earlier this year, the DEA took $16,000 from a 22-year-old Amtrak passenger--his whole life savings, which he had hoped to use to start his new life in L.A. He brought cash because he was afraid he might have trouble making large withdrawals from out-of-state banks.
“I told (the DEA agents) I had no money and no means to survive in Los Angeles if they took my money," he told the Albuquerque Journal. "They informed me that it was my responsibility to figure out how I was going to do that.”