His American dream was helping his family in Albania.
It ended when he walked through security at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
A U.S. citizen for more than a decade, Rustem Kazazi was flying back to Europe to help his Albanian family repair their home and maybe even to buy a little beach house somewhere along the Adriatic Sea. He placed $58,100 into three clearly marked envelopes, then packed the money away in his carry-on luggage.
It was 13 years of his life savings – and the federal government took every penny.
TSA employees discovered the cash, and agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized it. But first they strip-searched Kazazi and interrogated the 64-year-old without a translator as he covered himself with a towel.
That was in October. Kazazi still hasn’t been convicted (or charged) of any crime, and CBP didn’t offer any explanation for a month. But thanks to a law enforcement procedure called civil asset forfeiture, CBP also hasn’t given Kazazi his savings back. The federal government then came up with an explanation: they suspected he was “involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.”
The large sum wasn’t for anything nefarious, explained Kazazi, a former Albanian police office. “The crime in Albania is much worse than it is here,” he told the Washington Post. “Other people that have made large withdrawals [from Albanian banks] have had people intercept them and take their money.” Plus, hard U.S. currency is worth more.
And because traveling with that kind of cash isn’t a crime, the Kazazi family has filed suit against the federal government.