Government agents seized $181,500 in cash at airport and won't give it back
TAMPA - A Florida trucking company is suing two federal agencies, saying agents seized $181,500 in cash at Tampa International Airport and won't give it back.
The federal lawsuit filed by FGL Transport, Inc., and owners Scott Smith and Michael Rozenberg asks the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with agency officials, to return the money, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The lawsuit claims that in September, the company gave employee Boris Nulman $191,500 and a plane ticket to Cleveland to purchase several big trucks. When the cash in Nulman's carry-on bag went through a Transportation Security Administration scanner, the agents pulled it aside for an inspection.
Nulman was later allowed to leave, but only with $10,000, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. He never went to Cleveland to buy the trucks.
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The lawsuit says an agent gave Nulman a receipt to document the $181,500, but the federal agencies now say only $159,950 was confiscated. That's $21,550 less than what the company says was seized.
"This is legitimate money," Rozenberg said. "There is nothing dirty about this. We have evidence to show we took this out of our business account. Something is fishy here."
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The company says it proved the cash wasn't connected to illegal activity and contends agents violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment for warrantless searches and seizures.
Leslie Sammis, a Tampa attorney representing the three men, was in court Thursday and unavailable for comment, the newspaper reported. Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection also could not be reached for comment.
Nulman was questioned for 45 minutes at the security checkpoint and then asked to go to the airport's police station. The company submitted a "verified claims form" to get the money back, the lawsuit said.
A customs official replied in a letter weeks later, saying the agency was seizing $159,950 because it was proceeds from "specified unlawful activity" such as the manufacture, sale or distribution of a controlled substance. The customs letter didn't detail the discrepancy over the amount, according to the newspaper.
The newspaper reported that the government hasn't provided any reason it believes the money came from illegal activities.
The lawsuit contends that using cash to purchase big rigs is a common industry practice. The company had planned to build its fleet with trucks that were not at a dealer or an auction, and the independent owner didn't want a bank wire or cashier's check because of fraud tied to certified checks in Florida, Rozenberg told the newspaper.
He said it's not a crime to carry large amounts of money on a domestic flight, and Nulman, who is Rozenberg's son-in-law, also provided names and phone numbers to verify the money's origin.
After the lawsuit was filed, Rozenberg said he and Nulman received letters from Customs and Border Protection revoking their participation in the Global Entry Program, which allows for pre-approved entry into the U.S. The program requires an application, fingerprinting and extensive background check. Rosenberg told the Times the revocation is no coincidence.
Rozenberg said he's an owner and investor in the trucking company, while Smith manages the daily operation. The money seizure is starting to hurt the firm, he said.
"They are treating us like criminals," said Rozenberg. "This does not make any sense."