Aspiring black businessman had $16K life savings seized by DEA, although he was not charged with crime

It was a lifetime ambition for 22-year-old Joseph Rivers to arrive in Los Angeles and become a big name in the music business.

And he nearly made it…until a team of DEA agents put a stop to everything by snatching his life savings without even charging him with a crime.

The aspiring businessman from the outskirts of Detroit had managed to scrape together $16,000 and was finally on the train to Los Angeles when the justice department stepped in, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

Officers found Joseph’s thousands of dollars stashed in a bank envelope and questioned him about the origins of the cash.

As a young black man with an envelope full of money, Joseph claims that he was an easy target for a stop-and-search.

But Joseph explained to the officers that the money was legally his, and that he had saved it in order to start his own music video company in California.

He added that he had the money in cash only because he had previously had trouble with taking large sums of cash from out-of-state banks.

Even after a telephone call to Joseph’s mother in Detroit to corroborate his story, the agents refused to believe the young man, insisting that the money was drug-related.

Despite the fact the officers found no drugs or guns in Joseph’s luggage – and failed to charge him with any crime – they took his cash away from him under the civil asset forfeiture program.

The Justice Department’s multibillion-dollar civil asset forfeiture fund allows officers to seize a citizen’s belongings, based only on a suspicion that a person is breaking the law.

Rivers claims that he was picked on by officers as he was the only black person in his section of the train.

He has found a lawyer and is hoping to now get the justice department on his side to have at least some of the money returned.

The DEA has refused to comment in detail, however it has denied that Rivers was targeted for being black.

In instances of civil asset forfeiture, however, the burden of proof is with the defendant to have the property returned.

This is still the case even if the defendant has not been charged with a crime.

‘We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty,’ an Albuquerque DEA agent told the Journal. ‘It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.’

Attempts are being made to restrict the use of some types of civil asset forfeiture, however.

For example, earlier this year the then-US Attorney General Eric Holder announced measures to limit its use.

But the Institute for Justice has highlighted that these changes only affect a limited number of forfeitures, and only those initiated by local law enforcement agencies, according to the Washington Post.

It is estimated that around 90 per cent of seizures – particularly those initiated by federal agents like the DEA – will not be affected by the measures at all.

DEA agents have seized well over $38 million dollars in cash and goods already this year, according to their records of seized goods.

While last year Justice Department agencies made a total of $3.9 billion in civil asset seizures, compared to just $679 million in criminal asset seizures.

These figures follow the year-on-year trend, as for most years since 2008 civil asset forfeitures have made up the majority of seizures.

Source: The DailyMail

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