Customs and Border Protection police seized $72,095 in unreported cash from travelers at Dulles International Airport in three days, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.
Between Saturday and Monday, the officers seized tens of thousands of dollars from each of three travelers who failed to report the full amount of cash they were carrying. While there is no limit on how much money travelers can bring into the country, federal law states that travelers must document amounts in excess of $10,000 on financial reporting forms.
“Seizing a traveler’s currency is not a pleasant experience, but there are severe consequences for violating U.S. laws,” said Wayne Biondi, CBP director for the Port of Washington Dulles. “We hope that these seizures are a lesson for all travelers that the easiest way to hold on to their currency is to honestly report it all to a Customs and Border Protection officer.”
The first incident happened Saturday, when a U.S. resident arriving from Iran reported that she had $10,000. Officers inspecting her luggage found euros equivalent to $27,525, along with $2,135 in U.S. currency, for a total of $29,660. All of it was seized.
The next day, officers seized $20,435 from an American citizen arriving from Dubai, who only reported $10,000 in cash.
Finally on Monday, officers seized $22,000 from a man bound for Ukraine. The man reported $15,000 of the money, but officers ended up taking all of it except $1,000, which was returned because “they’re going to need some pocket cash” once there, according to CBP spokesman Stephen Sapp.
Sapp said some travelers underreport funds to avert suspicion from law enforcement, or to avoid having to file financial paperwork with the U.S. government.
“They’re just rolling the dice,” Sapp said. “The issue is cultural in some cases, where in some cultures they may have a distrust of law enforcement where they come from.”
The travelers were placed in Customs and Border Protection custody, but were released following the forfeitures.
Customs and Border Protection advises that travelers who refuse to comply with federal currency reporting requirements risk having their money seized, and potentially face charges of bulk cash smuggling.
Bulk cash smuggling laws were implemented to stem money-laundering mechanisms and narcotics networks, Sapp said.
The seizures come at a time when civil forfeiture laws face increased scrutiny from the media and the public. Recent reports highlight how some people have lost their college funds and life savings without ever being charged with a crime.
People might wonder why officers seize the entire sum of funds rather than merely the unreported portions.
Sapp said if a vehicle containing stolen or counterfeit goods were being shipped out of the country, the entire shipment would be liable to be seized. The same, he said, goes for cash.
“It’s not a great pleasure for us to take someone’s currency because in most cases it’s really hard-earned money,” Sapp said. “If you’re truthful with us, we’re not going to take your money.”