Rustem Kazazi, left, sits at home with wife, Lejla, and son Erald in Parma Heights, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Institute for Justice Enlarge
The case of a 64-year-old Cleveland man, who is suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection for strip-searching him and seizing more than $58,000 in cash from him without charging him with a crime, highlights the abuses that can arise from civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement officials to seize money or property from an individual without charging that individual with a crime. Proponents of the process point to assets taken from drug traffickers as proof of its effectiveness.
Rustem Kazazi likely has a different opinion, however.
Mr. Kazazi, a retired Albanian police officer who relocated to the United States in 2005 and became a citizen in 2011, was making a trip to his home country to visit family and assist with repairs on their property.
According to his lawsuit, Mr. Kazazi planned to bring $58,100 in U.S. currency with him. Concerns about corruption and crime in Albanian banks prevented him from simply wiring the funds.
This money was the cumulative life savings of Mr. Kazazi, his wife, and their son.
Aware of the skepticism he would face for carrying so much money in his belongings, Mr. Kazazi labeled the money, and brought bank receipts and documentation about the property in Albania with him to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on Oct. 24 of last year.
His bag was flagged and Customs and Border Protection took Mr. Kazizi to a windowless room where they searched his bags further and order Mr. Kazizi to remove his clothing. The searches revealed no signs of illegal activity.
But Customs and Border Protection seized the money anyway.
When the family received a seizure notice from the federal government more than a month later, the amount the government claimed to have seized was $770 less than what Mr. Kazizi says he carried, and it was claimed that “enforcement activity indicates that the currency was involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.”
The notice offered the Kazizis several options for resolving the matter, including abandoning the money, reclaiming a certain percentage and leaving the rest to Customs and Border Protection, or working through an internal CBP process.
Instead, Mr. Kazizi and his family have gone to the federal court, hoping to have all their money returned to them.
The American Civil Liberties Union has long lobbied against civil asset forfeiture, claiming it is ripe for abuse by the authorities and that seizing the property of someone who is not charged with a crime is unconstitutional. It is.
The case of the Kazizis proves that it is.
Interestingly, and inspiringly, Mr. Kazizi says he still loves the United States.
“He’s not going to let the actions of some employees that made a mistake in their duties change his opinion of the country,” said Erald, Mr. Kazizi’s son.
The United States would be wise to do right by a man whose faith in this country, and its justice system, has not wavered, even when he has been supplied with ample reason to turn his back.
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