Civil Asset Forfeiture Today - A Cashless Society Next?

Franklin’s statement of giving up liberty for security and in the end having neither is on our horizon in yet another instance.

I recall when Civil Asset Forfeiture came on the scene. The war on drugs was in full swing, and it was touted as a way to hit the drug dealers where it hurt. Visions of confiscated Ferraris full of cash really did not bother anyone; after all, they had come by all that through illegal activity! The car could be sold, and the cash that was taken would help the local police department and keeps our taxes low. Another scumbag would be off the streets, and we get to keep more of our money. What could go wrong with that?


“The Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program encompasses the seizure and forfeiture of assets that represent the proceeds of or were used to facilitate federal crimes. The primary mission of the Program is 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.”

Most states have similar laws on the books. I actually participated in this in the 80s. I was flown into a small airport in Arizona.  A man suspected of drug running had an airplane there. I was hired by the DEA as a contractor to take the plane and deliver it to a storage facility owned by the government in the midwest. I, essentially, stole the plane for the government, and I felt nothing was wrong with it, at the time.

There is a difference in Civil Asset Forfeiture and Criminal Asset Forfeiture. In the former, assets are seized under an assumption of guilt. In the latter, assets may be taken or frozen, but ownership does not change until arrest, charge, and conviction. If at any point in that process you are exonerated, your property is returned.

In the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, 24-year-old college student, Charles Clarke was waiting for his flight when agents approached him. They claimed his bag smelled of marijuana, so it was searched. No trace of drugs was found, yet he had $11,000 in cash he’d saved for his books and tuition. Police decided he was lying and took the cash.

Under asset forfeiture laws, police seized more than $24 million in assets from Michiganders in 2013. In many cases, the citizens were never charged with a crime, but lost their property anyway.

Jennifer Boatright was traveling with $6000 cash which she and her husband had saved to buy a used car. They were stopped by local law enforcement, asked if they had any drugs. When they said no, they were asked if the car could be searched, and they said yes. No drugs were found, but the cash was. They were given the option of signing over the cash, and being released or they would be charged with money laundering and child endangerment.

Internal Revenue Service from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 saturnismFlickr | CC-BY-SA

In North Carolina, Lyndon McLellan owns and runs a convenience store and restaurant. One morning he was met by federal agents who said he was making large cash deposits in his bank which was illegal, called “structuring.” Agents seized $107,702 from McLellan. Between 2005 and 2012, the IRS seized $242 million for structuring violations. McLellan was never charged, and eventually, the government did return his money after nearly a year.

These stories are nearly countless. Are most of the assets seized from people who are innocent? Not likely. HOWEVER, do we live under the assumption of guilt or innocence? Our founders found this to be quite important - five of the ten amendments deal with the issues of government vs. the people. Due process, illegal search, and seizure are all addressed.

Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution states: 

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The British had a habit of Asset Forfeiture beginning on the high seas. If they saw a ship they suspected of illegal activity, it would be taken. Often the cargo was sold, and the ship was either sold or taken and used. This, of course, led to abuse as ship captains became little more than pirates themselves - but operating under the flag and blessing of the King.

Today, we see much the same thing. One Police Chief took over a confiscated Rolls Royce for his personal police car. Departments buy extravagant equipment with assets taken. Whether done by the local police, the IRS, or other federal agency, these are direct violations of the protections afforded by our constitution. Neither cities, counties, states nor the federal government may pass laws that infringe on the people’s rights. 


Yet they do, and we not only let them, but we applaud them. They are keeping us safer from the “bad guys,” right? Sure, once in awhile someone may get caught up but it all works out in the end, right? Lyndon McLellan got his money back, right? He only had to run his business for a year without his $107,702.  That’s worth it so WE can be safer, right?

The Bill of Rights from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Ted MielczarekFlickr | CC-BY

Will a cashless society be the next move the government puts in place to protect us? 


Debit cards are so much easier than cash. No trips to the bank or ATM, no carrying enough cash for your purchases or night out on the town. No worry about civil asset forfeiture either.

Harvard economist, Kenneth Rogoff has a book that echoes the thoughts of many in banking and government-- “The Curse of Cash.” He suggests paper money fuels corruption, terrorism, tax Evasion and illegal immigration. Rogoff claims that his plan would reduce money-laundering, thereby reducing crime while at the same time exposing tax cheats who deal in cash payments. If we could get rid of problems by making something illegal, Prohibition would have worked, and we wouldn't have any drug problems today.

Things will simply be driven deeper underground, and a different barter system will develop. Isn’t a cash purchase simply a barter deal, trading one thing of value for another? Progressives either don’t understand human behavior, or they are evil. I suggest both.

Sweden will likely lead in this move. Parishioners can text their tithe to the church, and homeless street vendors will carry mobile card readers. India banned the 500, and 1000 Rupee notes, Thailand and China are luring people away from cash. Thailand and South Korea are moving to eliminate coin money.  In the U.S., the state of Louisiana has already banned the use of cash in all transactions involving secondhand goods. That means that you are not allowed to pay with cash at a garage sale or a flea market anymore.

Of course, the likely end of cash in the US will come from We, the people. We are sold the convenience and willingly make the choice that dooms us. Like the story of the wild pigs who were captured by the man who began to feed them, gradually building a pen around the feeding area, and one day simply closed the gate, we will willingly subject ourselves to the imprisonment. The point of Civil Asset Forfeiture and a cashless society is control.

The end game of going cashless is not for our “convenience;” it is for the express purpose of saving the banks and tax revenue. Neither the bank nor the government is concerned in the least about your convenience. They are only concerned with how much wealth they can procure from us. Think this is just something happening “over there” and will never happen here? Look what's already happened to our healthcare. 

Larry Summers, another Harvard economist who was close to the Obama Administration, has called for the elimination of the $100 bill. There is about $1.2 trillion in US cash in circulation (2013 figure) around the world. That would essentially destroy cash around the world.

Remember from this day forward, as you use your debit card, credit card, or phone to pay for goods and services. The elimination of cash will effectively hand over our personal sovereignty to the government and the banks.

Photo Credit: "Phat Wad, Break me off some", © 2006 Refracted Moments™Flickr | CC-BY


Written by Michael Murphy The Voice of Reason

The Voice of Reason

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