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Cash Seized by DEA, Customs, Homeland Security?

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Cash Seized Airport/TSA/Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security is the third largest federal department, and was created after the terrorist attacks that were carried out on September 11, 2001. The agency merged 22 federal agencies designed to integrate the functions that are common between the departments.

Their purpose in bringing them together aims to do so with the following ideals:

  • accountability
  • efficiency
  • transparency
  • leadership development

The unified agencies carry forward with one primary mission: that they operate as one, with all looking forward in the same direction, relying on each others’ information and expertise to protect the country.

The main benefit as far as security is concerned is the combined information database that allows different agencies to see wide ranging data that would not have been available to them before. This allows software and individuals to become alerted to  instances where certain combinations of activities and behaviors lead to suspicions on various intentions that individuals or groups may have.

There are many sections of the Department of Homeland Security that could potentially be involved in cash seizure, but the primary area is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which is the principal investigative unit under the Department of Homeland Security.

National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center

The operations of the ICE under the Homeland Security Investigations involved in locating money being moved across the border take place at the National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center in Williston, Vermont. Their primary mission is to assist law enforcement authorities at every level of government to restrict the flow of cash that is used to grow criminal organizations.

This communications center operates 24 hours a day, and provides intelligence information, support and expertise to those dealing with cases of money smuggling and laundering. For all divisions of law enforcement, it can provide immensely valuable to make one phone call that provides them with access to financial investigative experts that can provide them with instant guidance to properly track and monitor the flow of money through their organizations.

The power of the center was strengthened through the Patriot Act, from 2001, which made it illegal to smuggle cash internationally. Between 2003 and 2009, the Homeland Security Investigations carried out cash seizures which caused the arrest of over 1,100 people and seizure of more than $410 million in cash. The center estimates that in 2010 alone, they had arrests of 203 individuals and had cash seizure of over $101 million.

Examples of Cash Seizures

In 2009, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security released information about a huge cash seizure made over a 10 day period leading to more than $41 million in U.S. currency. It was secretly shipped aboard shipping containers that were discovered in both Colombia and Mexico. This large amount of cash included in these containers is directly attributable to the drug trade that begins in Colombia, where the illegal drugs originate, and they move to Mexico for distribution and then on to the United States.

In 2011, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles’ Compliance Enforcement Division had a major bust working with ICE in closing down a major false document factory that operated in Reno, Nevada. The four individuals arrested had been profiting by selling phony identity cards, and the search of their two residences led to cash seizures as well as other items, such as computer equipment and narcotics.

In late 2011, a Charlotte, North Carolina investigation led to the arrest of five individuals linked to a marijuana trafficking organization. Upon searching their property, ICE officers found a total of over $2 million that was made through their illegal drug activity, and all involved parties plead guilty to the charges. Meanwhile, the more than $2 million is being divided up between the seven law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation. Distribution will be based on the amount of work hours each agency put forth towards the investigation, estimated to be between $100,000 and $500,000 for each one.


The Department of Homeland Security is a very large and far reaching part of the federal government. There are many different segments of the department, and each of them can have situations that involve cash seizure. Any illegal activity that leads to monetary profit can be subject to this kind of seizure.

Other examples include the use of international mail or express courier services to move large amounts of cash across the border. Another could be the printing of counterfeit money that is then brought to the country with the intention of using it as real currency and use that money to carry out their harmful intentions.

This serves as a reminder of the reason the Department of Homeland Security was created in the first place. To unify government efforts to keep terrorists and those that seek to do harm to the American way of life out of the country. In tracking and monitoring these activities common to illegal organizations, they are helping to eliminate the large amounts of money in the hands of people that seek to use it to do such harm.


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