All the money – $16,000 in cash – that Joseph Rivers said he had saved and relatives had given him to launch his dream in Hollywood is gone, seized during his trip out West not by thieves but by Drug Enforcement Administration agents during a stop at the Amtrak train station in Albuquerque.

Rivers, 22, wasn’t detained and has not been charged with any crime since his money was taken last month.

That doesn’t matter. Under a federal law enforcement tool called civil asset forfeiture, he need never be arrested or convicted of a crime for the government to take away his cash, cars or property – and keep it.

Rivers was left penniless, his dream deferred.

From the Albuquerque Journal article: DEA to Traveler: Thanks, I’ll Take That Cash

In the “land of the free” you might be innocent until proven guilty, but your assets aren’t.

In one of the most uncivilized and preposterous loopholes in America, federal agents are allowed to steal citizens’ assets; cars, cash, even homes, based on suspicion alone. I’ve covered this barbaric and backward practice on many occasions, but here’s a quick refresher from the first post I wrote on the subject in 2013, Why You Should Never, Ever Drive Through Tenaha, Texas:

In a nutshell, civil forfeiture is the practice of confiscating items from people, ranging from cash, cars, even homes based on no criminal conviction or charges, merely suspicion. This practice first became widespread for use against pirates, as a way to take possession of contraband goods despite the fact that the ships’ owners in many cases were located thousands of miles away and couldn’t easily be prosecuted. As is often the case, what starts out reasonable becomes a gigantic organized crime ring of criminality, particularly in a society where the rule of law no longer exists for the “elite,” yet anything goes when it comes to pillaging the average citizen.

One of the major reasons these programs have become so abused is that the police departments themselves are able to keep much of the confiscated money. So they actually have a perverse incentive to steal. As might be expected, a program that is often touted as being effective against going after major drug kingpins, actually targets the poor and disenfranchised more than anything else.

Fortunately, civil asset forfeiture became a major issue last year, and while many states are moving to halt or crack down on the practice, this apparently doesn’t stop federal agents from continuing to ruin people’s lives. In today’s post, the culprits are DEA agents, recently best known for using drug cartel and taxpayer money to pay for orgies with prostitutes, as well as wrongfully locking up a California student for days without food and water until he had to drink his own urine to survive.

If those stories weren’t sufficient to convince you that the war on drugs is a useless fraud, perhaps the following will. From theAlbuquerque Journal:

Maybe he should have taken traveler’s checks.

But it’s too late for that now. All the money – $16,000 in cash – that Joseph Rivers said he had saved and relatives had given him to launch his dream in Hollywood is gone, seized during his trip out West not by thieves but by Drug Enforcement Administration agents during a stop at the Amtrak train station in Albuquerque.

An incident some might argue is still theft, just with the government’s blessing.

Rivers, 22, wasn’t detained and has not been charged with any crime since his money was taken last month.

That doesn’t matter. Under a federal law enforcement tool called civil asset forfeiture, he need never be arrested or convicted of a crime for the government to take away his cash, cars or property – and keep it.

Agencies like the DEA can confiscate money or property if they have a hunch, a suspicion, a notion that maybe, possibly, perhaps the items are connected with narcotics. Or something else illegal.

The most amazing part is that any society can be stupid and passive enough to allow this policy to persist.

Or maybe the fact that the person holding a bunch of cash is a young black man is good enough.

It happened, Rivers said, to him on April 15 as he was traveling on Amtrak from Dearborn, Mich., near his hometown of Romulus, Mich., to Los Angeles to fulfill his dream of making a music video. Rivers, in an email, said he had saved his money for years, and his mother and other relatives scraped together the rest of the $16,000.

Rivers said he carried his savings in cash because he has had problems in the past with taking out large sums of money from out-of-state banks.

A DEA agent boarded the train at the Albuquerque Amtrak station and began asking various passengers, including Rivers, where they were going and why. When Rivers replied that he was headed to LA to make a music video, the agent asked to search his bags. Rivers complied.

Rivers was the only passenger singled out for a search by DEA agents – and the only black person on his portion of the train, Pancer said.

Rivers was left penniless, his dream deferred.

Other travelers had witnessed what happened. One of them, a New Mexico man I’ve written about before but who asked that I not mention his name, provided a way for Rivers to get home, contacted attorneys – and me.

Sean Waite, the agent in charge for the DEA in Albuquerque, said he could not comment on the Rivers case because it is ongoing. He disputed allegations that Rivers was targeted because of his race.

Waite said that in general DEA agents look for “indicators” such as whether the person bought an expensive one-way ticket with cash, if the person is traveling from or to a city known as a hot spot for drug activity, if the person’s story has inconsistencies or if the large sums of money found could have been transported by more conventional means.

“We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty,” Waite said. “It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”

Again, what kind of idiotic civilization conducts its business like this?

DEA agents may choose to ask the person whether his or her possessions can be searched in what is called a “consensual encounter.” If the subject refuses, the bags – but not the person – can be held until a search warrant is obtained, he said.

Waite said that he could not provide exact figures on how often seizures occur in Albuquerque but that last week the DEA had five “consensual encounters” that resulted in seizures.

Whatever is seized is held during an internal administrative process (read: not public) while a case is made to connect the property to narcotics. Subjects can file a claim to have the items returned – and then they wait, sometimes forever.

This is not what freedom looks like.

While travelers like Rivers still have to worry about DEA agents, state and local law enforcement in New Mexico no longer has these virtually unlimited seizure powers. Five days before Rivers’ encounter in Albuquerque, Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law a bill that bars state and local law enforcement from seizing money or property under civil asset forfeiture. The law takes effect in July.

But the new state law won’t supersede the federal law, meaning federal agencies such as the DEA are still free to take your cash on arguably the flimsiest of legal grounds.

Drugs are everywhere. The “war on drugs” has been a monumental failure that has achieved absolutely nothing other than erode the civil liberties of average Americans, and provide an efficient avenue for police and federal agent to steal citizens’ hard earned assets with no due process. It’s long past time to put an end to the war on drugs, civil asset forfeiture and the DEA.

For related articles, see:

Wall Street Journal Reports Obama’s Attorney General Nominee Has Been Involved in $904 Million in Asset Forfeitures

Asset Forfeiture – How Cops Continue to Steal Americans’ Hard Earned Cash with Zero Repercussions

“Common People Do Not Carry This Much U.S. Currency…” – This is How Police Justify Stealing American Citizens’ Money

Why You Should Never, Ever Drive Through Tenaha, Texas

 


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