Much of the criticism of civil forfeiture has been focused on instances of law enforcement officers taking cash — and often fairly small sums of cash — they suspect is tied to criminal activity. The process doesn’t require law enforcement to have any proof of a connection to a crime, and allows them to file charges against the property itself, often purely on the basis of that property’s existence. Have $1000 in your car while driving on a highway that police consider a hot spot for drug dealers? Carrying cash in a backpack through a train station? That’s drug money to some police officers, no matter what you say. They’ll take it and you’ll have to fight a legal battle to prove it wasn’t.
Heuser’s story sounds even shadier than that, because he makes no mention of the DEA leaving him with any documentation of an official seizure, as the agency would be required to do; he told The Atlantic he didn’t bother to file a complaint because he figured it would be pointless. At any rate, perhaps an official seizure of $60 would be more offensive than realizing an agent had just swiped all of the cash out of your wallet.