Feds seized $2.7 million in cash from Florida travelers. There’s just one reason why

·6 min read

Before boarding his flight in May from Fort Lauderdale to Panama, Lisandro Cadenas claimed he was only traveling with $3,000.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers asked him both in English and Spanish to confirm how much money he was carrying, according to court documents.

Again, Cadenas said $3,000.

When the customs officers searched his belongings, however, they found bundles of cash stashed in multiple places, including the front pocket of his jeans and in a handkerchief of a man’s purse. When the officers finished searching Cadenas, a lawful U.S. resident of Cuban descent, they counted more than $29,000 on him, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit.

Cadenas, who faces federal trial at the end of August on charges of bulk-cash smuggling and making a false statement, lost all his money because he was required to declare it under U.S. law.

Customs officers seized his cash — a haul that added to more than $2.7 million that was confiscated from U.S. and foreign travelers who didn’t legally declare the money at Florida airports and ports this fiscal year, which ends next month. That’s a big uptick from 2020 federal seizures of $2 million in Florida, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Federal law states that travelers can bring as much money as they want when they travel in or out of the country, but they need to declare anything over $10,000 to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Travelers who fail to declare their funds risk getting the money taken away by customs officers — but the seizure statistics suggest more people still try to slip big wads of cash past federal agents.

In March, a Cuban couple was stopped at Miami International Airport by customs officers before boarding a Swift Air flight to Cuba.

Miguel Angel Del Rosario and Rachel De La Caridad Garcia declared they were carrying $8,000 in cash on the trip, but then only produced $5,104 when asked to show the funds in their two suitcases and two carry-on bags, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit. The customs officers searched their luggage and found a total of $105,469 hidden in their clothes. The couple’s money was seized, and they pleaded guilty to bulk-cash smuggling in June. They face sentencing in September.

In Florida, Miami International Airport, recognized as a hub for cash, contraband and drug smuggling, ranks among the top five in the United States for federal seizures of money from travelers who don’t legally declare it — a sum totaling $91.5 million at MIA between 2000 and 2016, according to a report by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based law firm that specializes in efforts to recover civil forfeitures by the government.

The airport seizure report, based on statistics from a Treasury Department’s forfeiture database, focuses on travelers whose money was taken by Customs and Border Protection officers. Their typical crime: a failure to file required paperwork, FinCEN Form 105, declaring more than $10,000 in cash upon entering or leaving the country.

The report — titled “Jetway Robbery? Homeland Security and Cash Seizures at Airports” — says that customs officers seized $2 billion in more than 30,000 seizures at U.S. airports over a 17-year period. A big chunk of that total, $500 million, was confiscated only because American and foreign travelers failed to declare more than $10,000 in cash — not because the seizure was connected to serious criminal activity.

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In response to the report’s findings, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said travelers must obey the cash reporting law and the agency must enforce it.

The only two expectations that CBP has of travelers is that they truthfully report all currency that they possess to a CBP officer, and that they complete a U.S. Treasury Department form (FINCEN 105) for all currency and other monetary instruments that exceed $10,000, the agency said.

“The disregard that some travelers have for our nation’s currency reporting laws is a concern and very unwise, especially when you consider travelers can keep their currency simply by just being honest and declaring the full amount to a Customs and Border Protection officer,” said Zach Mann, an agency spokesman in South Florida.

“CBP’s mission is to protect our nation, its citizens, residents and economy from criminal and terrorist activity,” Mann said. “As an agency, and as individual officers, we want to spend our time effectively and efficiently going after those with bad intentions. Part of the equation for all of our success is informed compliance by the traveler. When travelers know the law and comply then CBP can better focus on the bad guys.”

Cadenas’ encounter with customs officers at Fort Lauderdale’s airport is a case in point.

When pressed about why he was traveling with more than $29,000 in cash, Cadenas said he was planning to board a connecting flight from Panama to Cuba and then buy a car on the island, according to court records. But he also confessed that some of the money was part of a business arrangement where he and his wife transfer money from the U.S. to Cuba, records show. He said he only declared $3,000 to customs officers in Fort Lauderdale because he was worried about Cuban officials taking his cash.

Instead, the U.S. government seized because agents said he didn’t declare the full total.

One month before the feds seized Cadenas’ cash, Quashad Peterson Taylor lost a massive amount of money to customs officials at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport as his chartered flight was about to leave for the Bahamas.

Customs and Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations inspected the plane from Tropical Air Charters Inc. Taylor was a passenger with two crew members who all shook their heads when investigators asked if they had more than $10,000 in their possession, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit. Taylor said he only had $100 in a gray backpack in the cargo area.

Records indicated that Taylor was also suspected of traveling with bulk cash in 2018.

This time, officers searched the plane and found three large plastic bins filled with wrapped bundles of cash, rubber bands and empty money storage bags, according to the affidavit. More money was also found in Taylor’s fanny pack.

After the search of the plane in April, Taylor filled out a currency reporting form and wrote how he was transporting more than $1,000,000 on the flight to the Bahamas. He claimed all the money belonged to him, according to the criminal affidavit. Customs officers seized the money, which will be forfeited at his upcoming sentencing and turned over to the U.S. government.

Taylor pleaded guilty to bulk cash smuggling last month and will face sentencing in mid-October, said his lawyer, Nayib Hassan. He declined to comment about the case.

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