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Detroit Metro among airports DEA targets for cash grabs from travelers

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Detroit Metro among airports DEA targets for cash grabs from travelers

Post by Admin on Sat Aug 13, 2016 8:37 am

Two years ago, Christelle Tillerson bought a one-way ticket to fly from Detroit Metro Airport to Los Angeles where she planned to purchase a semi-tractor truck using cash withdrawn from her boyfriend's retirement savings.

When the Detroit woman arrived at the airport in Romulus on March 12, 2014, she was met by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents who asked if they could search her bags. She explained she had "about $20,000" in her checked luggage and gave them permission to search it.

Tillerson didn't know it, but she had targeted by the DEA after the agency "received information" that she was headed to Los Angeles on a one-way ticket.

Like hundreds of other travelers profiled and stopped by DEA agents at airports and train stations each year, Tillerson was about to have her money taken away from her by the government under the suspicion it was tied to drug trafficking.

Even though she was never criminally charged, Tillerson would have to sue the government if she wanted the $25,000 back that the agents found in her luggage.

An investigation by USA Today found federal drug agents regularly mine Americans' travel information to profile people who might be ferrying money for narcotics traffickers - though they almost never use what they learn to make arrests or build criminal cases.

Christelle Tillerson sued to get her $25,000 back.

When she was questioned at the airport that day, TIllerson explained the money had come from her boyfriend's 401 (k) and she was flying to California to buy a truck, according to court records.  She said she would get a discount by paying in cash.

Agents were suspicious; Tillerson was an ex-convict, who had spent time in prison for driving a load of marijuana into the United States from Mexico. She seemed to have little money of her own. And a police dog smelled drugs on the rubber-banded currency. showing signs of "street use."

Agents seized the money, and let Tillerson go.

Her lawyer, Cyril Hall, said she was never arrested, or even questioned about whether she could give agents information about traffickers.

A year and a half later - after she produced paperwork showing that much of the money had indeed come from her boyfriend's retirement fund - the Justice Department agreed to return the money, minus $4,000.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit, Gina Balaya, said prosecutors concluded that "a small percentage of the funds should be forfeited."

"It was outrageous. It's still outrageous," Hall said.



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