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Officers Can Take Your Cash And It's Legal

CHICAGO (CBS) - The CBS 2 Investigators expose law enforcement confiscating money - even when there is no crime.  One man lost tens of thousands of dollars and reached out to CBS 2's Dave Savini.

Josh Gingerich buys and flips trucks.  A recent buying trip to do that, cost him a bag of cash which was seized by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) drug interdiction task force at O'Hare Airport.

"A little over $29,000," the amount taken said Gingerich who was not arrested and did not break any laws.  "No marijuana, no drugs."

He believes an airport TSA agent saw the money in his backpack and tipped off the DEA.

"They take you down to a dingy basement room," said Gingerich.  "No cameras no nothing."

Gingerich said he was set up by the officers who he says claimed to smell marijuana on a plastic bag filled with dirty laundry in his backpack.  He said officers dumped the clothes, filled the bag with cash, then brought it to the drug dog.

"They can just do what they want," said Gingerich.

Within the United States, it is legal to carry cash says Benjamin Ruddell of the ACLU.

"There's no prohibition on carrying cash, or carrying a large amount of cash," said Ruddell who points out what they believe is flawed with the DEA Civil Asset Forfeiture Program.

"If the purpose of this is to disrupt illegal drug activity... we'd see some of these people be arrested," said Ruddell.

Last March, the U.S. Justice Department Inspector General released a report saying from 2007 - 2016, the DEA seized $3.2 billion with zero convictions tied to this money.

"It should be against the law," said Gingerich.

Gingerich also questions whose being given this seizure power.  In his case, there was a Chicago police officer working on the DEA drug interdiction team.  The officer has at least 27 Chicago Police Department complaints – he was cleared on all but one.  Six of the 27 were for illegal searches.  He has also been sued - resulting in two settlements involving bad searches and a bad drug arrest.

This happened to Gingerich in February, and he recently hired Attorney Michael Schmiege to get his money back.

"It's not a quick and easy process.  It's not like traffic court.  It can drag on for years," said Schmiege.

Schmiege also says drug dogs often hit on money.

"Most United States currency.. has trace amounts of narcotics on it," said Schmiege.

Another twist in this case, Gingerich lives in California - where marijuana is legal.

"You're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty," said Gingerich who wants his money back and interest too.

If Gingerich fails to get his money, it will be divided up between the federal government and local  police on the task force.

The ACLU says Illinois gets $20 million to $30 million a year from these seizures.

DEA Statement: "The Asset Forfeiture Program aims to employ asset forfeiture powers in a manner that enhances public safety and security. This is accomplished by removing the proceeds of crime and other assets relied upon by criminals and their associates to perpetuate their criminal activity against our society. Asset forfeiture has the power to disrupt or dismantle criminal organizations that would continue to function if we only convicted and incarcerated specific individuals. Seizures made during the course of interdiction operations do not rely on only one fact when determining probable cause.  Multiple facts, circumstances, statements and other factors go into the decision to seize an asset.  These must be taken as a whole in order to understand the probable cause for a seizure, each of which, has a process for contesting available to them."

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