Drug Enforcement Administration agents took $16,000 from a young man traveling from Michigan to California to pursue a music industry career, but he was never charged with a crime.
Joseph Rivers, 22, had his bag searched by DEA agents on April 15 while on a train in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his lawyer said. Though agents called his mother, who vouched that the money was a combination of saved money and gifts from family, the cash was confiscated anyway.
“We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty,” said Sean Waite, the head of the DEA’s Albuquerque office, the Albuquerque Journal reported May 6.
Mr. Rivers’ attorney told the newspaper that his client’s story isn’t unique. Agents use civil-asset forfeiture laws to justify the confiscation of assets they suspect were obtained illegally. Mr. Rivers was reportedly the only black man on the train at the time his bags were searched.
“What this is, is having your money stolen by a federal agent acting under the color of law. It’s a national epidemic. If my office got four to five cases just recently, and I’m just one attorney, you know this is happening thousands of times,” said San Diego attorney Michael Pancer, the newspaper reported.
Mr. Rivers told the newspaper that DEA agents essentially said he should have anticipated a survival plan for just such an ordeal.
“I told [the 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,” Mr. Rivers said, the Journal reported.
A complete stranger who Mr. Rivers called his “guardian angel” came to his aide, the newspaper reported.
Mr. Waite said he could not comment on Mr. Rivers’ case because an investigation into his story is ongoing, the newspaper reported. Mr. Rivers has since returned to Michigan.