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DEA Takes Millions From US Travelers, Often Without Charges

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USA Today has discovered that DEA agents routinely seize cash from American travelers without ever arresting, charging, or sometimes even questioning them. Further, this practice has become integral to the DEA’s budget. “Basically, you’ve got to feed the monster,” a former DEA supervisor says. Over the past decade, DEA agents have seized more than $209 million in cash from at least 5,200 people at 15 airports. They do this—largely without the knowledge or consent of airlines or Amtrak—by using a network of informants in the travel industry to profile travelers.

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Just paying cash for a ticket is enough to get on the DEA’s radar, but it’s not enough evidence of wrongdoing to detain or search a traveler. So agents typically start by asking if they can ask the traveler a few questions then asking if they can search their bags. If they seize cash, they usually give the traveler a receipt for it then let them go. Christelle Tillerson had $25,000 seized by the DEA after she bought a one-way ticket to California in 2014. She told agents her boyfriend withdrew the money from his USPS retirement account so she could buy a truck. But Tillerson is an ex-con and a police dog smelled drugs on the cash, so it was seized. Tillerson proved she was telling the truth, and the government gave her money back 18 months later, minus $4,000 as a forfeiture. Her lawyer calls it “outrageous.”

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