Uncle Sam continues to use the War on Drugs to profit from the misfortune of average citizens.
Earlier last month, 22-year-old Joseph Rivers boarded a train bound for Los Angeles in hopes of one day having a career in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, federal authorities chopped the man’s bright-eyed enthusiasm off at the neck, long before he ever crossed over into California, by stealing his life savings.
According to The Albuquerque Journal, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration accosted Rivers at an Amtrak station during a short layover in New Mexico. It was here that agents began giving him and several other passengers the third degree in hopes of establishing evidence to suggest that someone, anyone, might be using the great American rail system to traffic illegal narcotics.
Witnesses say the shakedown began as a series of typical law enforcement-type questions: “Where are you going… and why?” However, Rivers, the only black man at the scene, was reportedly singled out by an agent and asked for consent to a search of his bag. Hoping to avoid any further hassle, Rivers complied with the DEA’s request.
During the search, agents found an envelope from a Michigan bank containing River’s life savings—$16,000 in cash. Although there was nothing in the bag to suggest involvement with the illegal drug trade, agents decided to seize all of the cash based on possibility that Rivers earned it slinging dope.
Rivers attempted to explain the origin of the cash to agents. He even connected them on the phone with his mother, who clarified that he had been able to save the money throughout the course of the past several years with the help of the family.
In the end, the DEA refused to return the cash because… Well… The law says they do not have to.
Thanks to the civil asset forfeiture program, overseen by the Department of Justice, DEA agents can seize an individual’s cars, cash and houses simply based on a suspected affiliation with the illegal drug trade. What’s more is that the individual will likely never see their property again, regardless of whether or not they are charged with a crime. It’s legal thievery at a dastardly level, and it reportedly put nearly $7 billion in Uncle Sam’s pocket between 2008 and 2013, according to the Institute for Justice.
“These officers took everything that I had worked so hard to save and even money that was given to me by family that believed in me,” Rivers said. “I told (the DEA agents) I had no money and no means to survive in Los Angeles if they took my money. They informed me that it was my responsibility to figure out how I was going to do that.”
Rivers was left stranded in New Mexico without any money to get home.
This is not a new chapter in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s handbook of tricks to bamboozle unsuspecting travelers out of everything they own. Earlier this year, High Times covered a report published by the Office of the Inspector General that found the DEA sets up offices in airport terminals and bus stations all across the nation in order to profile people they suspect to be drug traffickers—a practice that has generated $163 million (between 2009 and 2013). The latest data regarding DEA seizures reveals that violating innocent citizens under the civil asset forfeiture program is an extremely profitable enterprise.
Fortunately, Rivers received some help from the kindness of strangers, who witnessed the DEA’s great train robbery and assisted him in getting back to his home in Michigan—$16,000 poorer, nonetheless.