A Massachusetts woman has filed a class action lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Transportation Security Administration.
Rebecca Brown says she had taken about $82,000 in cash from her father's Pennsylvania home and was bringing it to Massachusetts because the time had come for her to take charge of his finances. The money was confiscated before her flight from Pittsburgh.
"The government took my dad's life savings," said Brown, who lives outside Boston. "It's like I was mugged on the street."
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Brown's father had kept the money in a Tupperware container in his home. She was bringing it back to Massachusetts in a carry-on bag to open a joint bank account.
"The TSA agent said, 'What's this?' and called another agent over," said Brown. "I said, 'That's cash, I'm taking it from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts.'"
She explained the circumstances to several supervisors at the airport, and she says an agent with the DEA and a state police trooper called her dad.
"The trooper turned to me and said, 'Your stories don't match,'" she said. "'I'm seizing the cash.'"
Brown says her father couldn't hear the questions well and didn't understand them.
Now, a class action lawsuit has been filed by the Institute for Justice against the DEA and TSA, not only to get her money back, but to stop what her lawyers call a common and unconstitutional practice of seizing money at airports.
"It's based solely on the suspicion of law enforcement that someone is somehow involved in crime, even if there's no evidence whatsoever," said Dan Alban, a senior attorney with the Institute. "Often, just the presence of cash is enough for law enforcement to be suspicious."
There are no limits to how much cash someone can travel with domestically.
"This is a blatant abuse of power to just reach into someone's pocket without any cause and say, 'I'm going to take that,'" said Brown.
Both the DEA and TSA said they can't comment on pending litigation.
Neither Brown nor her father have been charged with any crime, and their attorney says there is nothing in their background that would warrant federal officials to be suspicious.