Police tactics in asset forfeitures in airports, train stations and bus stations

On Behalf of | Mar 15, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Asset seizures for the purpose of forfeiture happens with shocking frequency. Law enforcement authorities at all levels are involved with forfeitures and they are frequently coordinating their efforts between the federal, state and municipal levels to launch criminal investigations and civil claims.

The most financially significant asset seizures occur most frequently at certain hot spots like train stations, airports, and bus depots. It is critical to understand how the police approach asset seizures and forfeitures in order to minimize exposure and fight to get your assets back when the police break the rules or can’t meet their burden of proof based on the applicable law, whether it be in a civil asset forfeiture matter or part of a criminal indictment.

In Chicago, I have handled numerous cases involving cash seizures and forfeitures at O’Hare International Airport, Midway Airport and Union Station, in federal and state courts. I have also represented claimants in forfeiture matters throughout the United States. Collectively, I have gotten millions of dollars returned to my clients.

What the police are looking for

Airports, train stations and bus stations are among the most frequent hot spots for the seizure of currency from travelers, but law enforcement also commonly seizes money during traffic stops. The police target these areas and seem to look for evolving factors as indicators or clues. Many factors they commonly assert provide them with suspicion include, but certainly aren’t limited to:

  • Last minute ticket purchases, especially when made in cash
  • One-way tickets, especially to border towns or other common drug crime destinations
  • Tickets purchased with a credit card under someone else’s name
  • Sleeper cars, roomettes, bedroom cars or other private train cars
  • Failure to claim more than $10,000 at customs on international flights

Frankly, the factors seem to shift to fit the facts, which is why you should seek the benefit of an experienced forfeiture lawyer if your property has been seized for forfeiture. The police target these situations regularly, to find any “suspicious behavior.” Ostensibly they are looking for drugs, weapons or making strong efforts to stop various crimes, but make no mistake they want your money. And when they find any irregularity like the ones listed above, they will often search a passenger and seize their assets.

How the tactic works

One reoccurring tactic involves approaching a subject just before the plane takes off or the train departs the station. They wait until the suspect is well past security at the airport and literally about to board the plane or train; sometimes the subject is well-settled in the train compartment. Agents will approach and ask questions about large amounts of currency (which they often know the answer to based on TSA screening or money found in checked bags) or act is if they are doing a “random” screening to protect occupants’ safety. Either way, the stress of missing your flight or train puts stress and pressure on the subject and the answers to the questions posed can be harmful to any future forfeiture matter after they seize your property. Many times, people miss their plane, bus, or train and other times they are given a receipt or slip of paper documenting the seizure and you are sent on your way if you are fortunate enough to not get left behind. Law enforcement simply advises you to check your mailbox, because the required notices for any forfeiture action will be sent to you.

Why do the police use these tactics?

The police use these tactics to make money for their departments and law enforcement initiatives, such as buying equipment. With major asset forfeitures, the potential payout is very high, and it makes monetary sense for agencies to investment manpower in their forfeiture operations, which are coordinated and strategic.

 Then what?

Once the police have your money, you have to fight to get it back. Even though they have procedure to follow and the burden of proof, they err on the side of seizing your assets and put you through the process. Many people who don’t know their rights, or get poor advice from inexperienced lawyers, simply walk away from their own money; that is a mistake.

Then the impetus is on you to fight the police action to get your assets back. If you have had your assets seized for the purpose of forfeiture at an airport, train or bus station, or during a traffic stop, talk with attorney Darryl A. Goldberg. He will fight to get your assets returned to you.


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