DEA Steals Young Man’s Life Savings Under Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws

By Victoria Kim 05/15/15

The DEA can confiscate money or property based on a mere suspicion that the items are connected with narcotics.

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Joseph Rivers is the latest victim of civil asset forfeiture, after he was forced to surrender $16,000 in cash—money he’d saved for years with the help of his family—to a DEA agent during a random search on an Amtrak train.

The 22-year-old Rivers was headed to Los Angeles from his hometown of Romulus, Mich., to produce a music video with the money he’d raised with the help of his family. He had changed trains at the Amtrak station in Albuquerque, N.M., on April 15, when agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration boarded the train and began asking various passengers, including Rivers, where they were going and why.

Rivers was the only passenger searched by DEA agents, and the only black person in his car, according to witnesses. Upon finding the bank envelope of cash, Rivers explained why he had it, and that he’d had trouble in the past withdrawing large sums of money from out-of-state banks.

They seized his cash anyway, which by law they are allowed to do under the federal law enforcement tool called civil asset forfeiture. “I even allowed him to call my mother, a military veteran and (hospital) coordinator, to corroborate my story,” Rivers told the Albuquerque Journal. ”Even with all of this, the officers decided to take my money because he stated that he believed that the money was involved in some type of narcotic activity.”

Agencies like the DEA can confiscate money or property based on mere suspicion that the items are connected with narcotics. Rivers was not detained and has not been charged with any crime since his money was taken last month, according to the Journal.

“We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty,” Sean Waite, the agent in charge of the DEA in Albuquerque told the Journal. Waite denied that Rivers was targeted because of his race.

“These officers took everything that I had worked so hard to save and even money that was given to me by my family that believed in me,” Rivers told the Journal. “I told (the DEA agents) I had no money and no means to survive in Los Angeles if they took my money. They informed me that it was my responsibility to figure out how I was going to do that.”

Five days before the incident in Albuquerque, the governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez signed into law a bill that prohibits state and local law enforcement from seizing money or property under civil asset forfeiture. However, the law only affects state law enforcement officials, not federal agencies like the DEA.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr