Government Law

US Customs will return $57,330 seized at airport; immigrant says another $770 is due

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Alexander Kalina/

An immigrant who is a U.S. citizen isn’t satisfied with the government’s offer to return $57,330 seized from him last October at a Cleveland airport.

Rustem Kazazi says the government was wrong about the amount and it owes another $770, report and the Cleveland Scene. A December trial has been scheduled to determine whether Kazazi will get the additional money.

Kazazi, 64, is a retired Albanian police officer who lives in Parma Heights, Ohio. He says U.S. Customs agents seized his life savings—money he intended to use during a six-month stay in Albania. During his visit, Kazazi planned to repair the home he left behind and to buy a new home off the Adriatic coast, according to a May 31 lawsuit filed on his behalf by the Institute for Justice.

The government sent Kazazi a December notice claiming the money was part of a drug smuggling or money laundering operation, but Kazazi and his family have tax documents and bank statements showing they had worked to obtain the money, according to Institute for Justice press releases here and here.

The government did not meet an April 17 deadline to seek civil forfeiture of the money, and the family is entitled to the full amount of $58,100, according to the lawsuit.

“Our dream was to buy a little house on the coast” in Albania, Kazazi told “Very small, nothing fancy. We would sell our old home after we fixed it up and use that money and our savings to buy the seaside cottage. We would use it as a place to go for vacations. The prices were very good last year, but no longer.”

Johanna Talcott, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, told that Kazazi will get back $57,330 within 30 days, but the fight over the $770 will continue.

“The government only settled after the lawsuit was filed and in light of all the publicity that ensued,” she said. “The case is not over yet.”

In a release, Talcott said the family’s case illustrates why civil forfeiture must end. The Kazazis did nothing wrong and were never charged with a crime, yet the government held on to their money.

“This kind of abuse is far too common because civil forfeiture is an inherently abusive process that will always have disastrous effects on innocent people,” she said. “Enough is enough.”

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