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Quick question: Can the government seize your money without charging you with a crime?  If you ask Louisiana resident Kermit Warren (pictured above), he'll tell you that the answer is yes and no.  I know that sounds confusing, that's because it totally is.

Kermit Warren was trying to make an honest living

This whole ordeal started in New Orleans during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Kermit Warren was working as a shoe shiner at The Roosevelt Hotel, but when the crowds disappeared so did his job.  Not one to wallow in defeat, Kermit turned to his side hustle - collecting scrap metal to resell.  If the family could throw their everything into it, Mr. Warren was sure it could support them.  The business plan was simple: Clean up metal debris for clients that would pay him and his son to do so, then sell that metal for a profit.  To make sure he could take on the bigger jobs, Kermit knew he needed a heavy-duty truck to haul the scraps to the junkyard.

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Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kermit found the vehicle he needed in Ohio, or so he thought

After an exhaustive search, Kermit thought he found the exact vehicle his new business needed - a massive tow truck for sale in Ohio.  In early November of 2020, Mr. Warren quickly put together his life savings ($30,000 in cash), grabbed his son, and flew straight to the Buckeye State.  Unfortunately, he was less than impressed when he saw the truck in person. As it turns out, the rig was too big for the job.  After deciding that he would have to look elsewhere for the hauler his business needed, Kermit and his son headed back to the airport to fly back home to Louisiana.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mr. Warren's activities raised the eyebrows of the TSA

According to the report from the Institute for Justice, when Kermit and his son headed back into the Columbus airport - TSA screeners asked him about the large amount of cash he was carrying in his bag.  After a brief explanation, he was allowed to pass with his money.

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

The situation got worse when the DEA showed up

Warren and his son were stopped at the gate, but this time the agents were with the Drug Enforcement Agency.  Kermit and his son once again explained what was going on, but that wasn't enough for the DEA agents questioning the pair.  The officials explained that Warren's activities (including the fact that he had no other luggage and purchased one-way plane tickets) were consistent with those of a "drug courier."  They claimed that under the rules of civil forfeiture they would be taking every last dollar, and that's exactly what they did.

Kermit Warren was never charged with, let alone convicted, of a crime

Under the very controversial rules regarding civil forfeiture, federal agents can seize money and/or property without proof that a crime has been committed.  Whereas a criminal court has to prove that a defendant is guilty "beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt," no such rule exists for these type of seizures.  That makes getting it back incredibly hard if not impossible.  In fact, 6 months after the money was taken, the the government filed a civil forfeiture complaint in federal court in order to keep Mr. Warren's money permanently.  Federal officials claimed that, even though they had no proof, the money was "somehow connected to drug activity."

Mr. Warren got the help of some experts in his fight to re-claim his life savings

The legal experts at the Institute for Justice have come to Kermit's side in his battle against Uncle Sam.  They claim that this is just the latest in a long string of civil forfeiture abuses that allow the government to basically rob law-abiding citizens. Their demand is simple: Either show proof of Mr. Warren's crimes or give him his money back.

Kermit finally gets justice (and his money back)

I'm glad to report that the thrilling conclusion to this tale is a happy one.  According to Yahoo News, the lawyers representing Mr. Warren have done their job splendidly.  After presenting tax documents, call logs, and even Uber receipts the federal government has ordered that Kermit Warren will get his money back.  On top of that, the complaint filed by the DEA to keep his money has been dismissed "with prejudice," - meaning it can never be re-filed again.

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