Stealing Money from Travelers: How the DEA Can Search, Seize, and Profit Without a Warrant

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 10:00 AM PERMALINK

An investigation spanning the past several months by USA Today found that the Drug Enforcement Administration consistently searches through American travel records to seize millions of dollars using civil asset forfeiture.

It claims to be looking for drug traffickers, but the agency rarely uses the information found to actually make arrests. According to the USA Today investigation, DEA agents work with Amtrak agents and officers from nearly every major U.S. airliner to seize millions from people carrying large amounts of money. The units seized more than $209 million from over 5,000 people over the past decade, but the DOJ only took 87 federal cases to court to seize cash from travelers.

Assuming these 87 cases were included in the 5,000 number, only 1.7% of all seizures actually get prosecuted in court for drug trafficking. If the DEA is actually “combatting major criminal activity,” then it would actually be arresting and prosecuting these so-called criminals.

The DEA has also built one of the largest wiretapping operations in U.S. history in the suburbs of Los Angeles according to USA Today’s research. These investigators intercepted over 2 million conversations from around 44,000 people, according to federal court records. This operation once accounted for 1/5 of all U.S. wiretaps. Investigators found that DEA agents used these wiretaps to seize drugs and millions of dollars in cash, and they would tip off other investigators from other agencies. DEA agents then instructed the investigators to conduct their own independent searches (aka. parallel construction).

Riverside County’s District Attorney noted that for every 3 wiretaps last year, 1 arrest was made-one of the lowest rates of any jurisdiction in the nation conducting wiretaps.

When the Justice Department found out about this, it expressed fears that “the surveillance issues are unlikely to withstand legal challenges.”

Even the DOJ warned that this practice could be determined illegal, but the DEA continued to illegally watch, search, and seize from American citizens.

The DEA also became close with Amtrak employees and wasted more taxpayer dollars. More USA Today research found that the administration paid an Amtrak employee more than $850,000 since 1996 to serve as a confidential informant for the agency to identify and combat contraband trafficking. This money did nothing, for the information received was always available to the DEA at no extra cost. Another employee also received money ($9,701) for information again freely available to the DEA. The administration’s Inspector General noted that the project not only violated federal regulations but also “substantially wasted government funds.

The Justice Department, in accordance with the Drug Enforcement Administration, must end its ridiculous crusade against the rights of Americans by stopping its illegal search and seizure practice done in the name of civil asset forfeiture. When the inspector generals and district attorneys warn the agency and it continues this process, the department needs to end its vicious, million-dollar tirade against taxpayers. 

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