Family Loses $58,100 of Life Savings in US Customs Airport Seizure
An Albanian immigrant family from Ohio lost their life savings of $58,100 at an airport in October after US Customs and Border Protection seized it at a security checkpoint.
Rustem Kazazi, a 64-year-old Albanian immigrant who lives in Ohio, planned on traveling back to Albania in October for six months to visit extended family who were struggling financially and to purchase a vacation house for his upcoming retirement. In preparation for the trip, Kazazi reduced his family's life savings to cash to avoid bank fees, according to a federal lawsuit Kazazi filed Thursday against US Customs and Border Protection.
As Kazazi was going through security at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), officials found the money in his bag, which was in an envelope with "$58,100" written on the front. Kazazi was then strip-searched by US Customs officers and interrogated without a translator, even though he requested one. The officers then seized the money through a civil forfeiture process and did not formally charge Kazazi with any crime.
"We’re encountering a situation where law enforcement sees somebody with legal cash, assumes they must have done something criminal, and they just take the money," Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice who represents the Kazazis, said in a statement.
TPG reached out to The US Customs and Border Protection, but they declined to comment on pending litigation.