An innocent immigrant family has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to retrieve their life savings from the U.S. government after it was stolen using civil forfeiture.
Rustem Kazazi, a 64-year-old former police officer, was originally from Albania, but is now a U.S. citizen who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. He was travelling with cash back to Albania to help fix up a family home and consider purchasing another house, as well as to help friends and family who were struggling financially, reported The Institute For Justice.
He was stopped at the Cleveland airport by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and taken to an interrogation room where he was strip searched and interrogated. The authorities then stole all of his life savings, which was $58,100 in cash, and did not charge anyone in his family with a crime.
The 64-year-old is now working with the Institute for Justice in an attempt to get back what he worked his entire life for.
According to the IJ, Rustem, his wife Lejla, their son, Erald, and their daughter, “immigrated to the United States in 2005 and became American citizens in 2010. They worked hard to save up $58,100 for Rustem’s trip. He packed the family’s savings in three envelopes in his carry-on luggage and passed through security at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, heading to a layover at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, before ultimately flying to Albania. But CBP agents stopped him in Cleveland and took the family’s entire life savings.”
The IJ says that people are legally allowed to travel with cash, even though the CBP sometimes chooses not to follow the law.
“You have the right to travel with cash in America, even when you’re flying internationally,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with IJ. “But again, we’re encountering a situation where law enforcement sees somebody with legal cash, assumes they must have done something criminal, and they just take the money. It is disturbing how little respect federal agents show for the civil rights of American citizens.”
The government had to invent lies against the Kazazis because they could find nothing they actually did wrong. Over a month after having their life savings stolen, they received a ridiculous letter from CBP falsely claiming their hard-earned money was “involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.”
Of course that is not true, they saved their money from legal jobs they had over 13 years in the U.S., and they have the tax records and bank statements to prove it. The government has failed to produce any evidence or illegal activity to support their claim against the family.
Rustem says he decided to bring cash because American dollars are more valuable than the local currency, so he would have more purchasing power.
CBP’s letter claimed they took $57,330 from Rustem—$770 less than they actually took. So they not only stole his life savings without due proces, they either miscounted it or stole some of it.
Federal law required the agency to return the Kazazis’ money or initiate legal proceedings no later than April 17, 2018 because CBP never filed a formal forfeiture complaint against the family’s money. Unfortunately, the CBP chose not to follow the law in this case either, and they still keep their ill-gotten money over 7 months after stealing it.
Erald is not pleased with the way the federal government has chosen to break the law to bully and steal from innocent citizens.
“The government harassed my father, stole my family’s money and is now apparently hoping we’ll just forget about it,” said Erald Kazazi. “We’re American citizens, and we came to this country because we believe America is the land of freedom and opportunity. We never imagined the government would treat its own citizens this way.”
IJ reported that this is not an isolated case:
The Kazazis’ case marks the third active IJ legal challenge against CBP. Earlier this month, IJ attorneys filed a class action lawsuit in Texas against the agency on behalf of a Houston-area nurse, Anthonia Nwaorie, who was traveling to Nigeria to build a medical clinic for vulnerable women and children. After CBP missed its filing deadline in that case, the agency initially demanded Anthonia sign away her civil rights in order to get her money back. CBP suddenly reversed course and returned Anthonia’s money without requiring her to sign away her rights after IJ’s lawsuit garnered an avalanche of negative publicity, but the lawsuit remains ongoing.
Last fall, IJ filed a different federal class action lawsuit in Texas against CBP’s use of civil forfeiture after the agency seized a truck from Kentucky farmer Gerardo Serrano and held it for two years without charging him with a crime. The agency returned Gerardo’s truck after IJ filed the lawsuit, but that case also remains ongoing. The plaintiffs in all three cases are trying to ensure nobody else falls victim to the nightmares they have experienced with civil forfeiture.
“This family’s case, like so many others, shows why civil forfeiture must end,” explained IJ attorney Johanna Talcott. “The Kazazis did nothing wrong and were never charged with a crime, but the government still won’t return their money all these months later. This kind of abuse is far too common because civil forfeiture is an inherently abusive process that will always have disastrous effects on innocent people. Enough is enough.”