PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The FBI wants a Vancouver man’s lawsuit thrown out after he sued to get back more than $120,000 agents seized from him at Portland International Airport.
The FBI is not accusing him of a crime. Government lawyers say he simply waited too long to ask for the money back.
The case began April 11, 2018. Steven Williams, 37, was sitting in his seat waiting for his plane to push back from the terminal at PDX for a flight to Phoenix when FBI agents boarded the jet and ordered him to go with them.
Back in the terminal, surrounded by other travelers, the federal lawsuit says three agents asked him to explain why he was carrying $121,940 cash in a Louis Vuitton duffle bag. Bill Brandt, Williams’ lawyer, says his client is in the car business and was taking the money to Arizona to purchase a vehicle.
“It’s not illegal to have cash,” Brandt told KOIN 6 after he filed the lawsuit in March. “They just took the money from him and didn’t charge him with a crime.”
Williams first drew the suspicion of TSA agents when they spotted the cash in his luggage while going through security. They let him go on to his gate but contacted the FBI office in Portland.
Williams said the agents threatened to “drag him through the airport” and later “raid his home” if he did not let them search his phone and belongings. He thought he didn’t have a choice, so he handed over his phone. The lawsuit claims the agents searched through years’ worth of texts, finding messages from seven years ago that they believed were “related to the sale of cannabis.”
Williams told them the texts and cash were not related to any criminal activity. The FBI eventually let Williams go — and he has never been charged with a crime — but they confiscated his cash.
In a response to Williams’ lawsuit Monday, Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Danielson wrote that the FBI notified Williams in June of last year that he had 35 days to contest the seizure or the money would be forfeited. Danielson wrote that Williams signed for the certified letter on June 25, 2018, but Williams and his lawyer did not file a claim for the cash until November.
“The 35 days Plaintiff had to file a claim expired on August 1, 2018; and the property has been lawfully forfeited,” Danielson wrote.
“They scared the hell out of him,” said Brandt “He was told his life would be miserable if he contested any of this.”
Williams and his lawyer asked the FBI for an additional $50,000 for “substantial emotional distress,” plus interest.
Williams’ lawsuit also claims the agents acted unconstitutionally and in violation of the Fourth and Fifth amendments. The U.S. Attorney for Oregon also wants those accusations thrown out.
“The parties have made a good faith effort to resolve this dispute but have been unable to do so,” wrote Danielson in the government’s response to the lawsuit.