Orlando airport cash seizure: Feds seek to keep $129K they say is tainted by drug trafficking

October 8, 2018 in News by RBN Staff


Source: Orlando Sentinel


When Michael Simon pushed his carry-on bag through a TSA scanner at Orlando International Airport earlier this year, a security agent zeroed in on something that wasn’t a gun.

In his bag was a bundle of 497 $100 bills, 109 $50 bills, 3,266 $20 bills, 569 $10 bills, 707 $5 bills and two-dozen $1 bills. Agents seized the cash, alleging it was tainted by drug trafficking and took it to Loomis Financial Services to have it counted: $129,719.

Simon’s run-in with the cash-seizing authorities on April 22 didn’t stop there. Just 23 days later, it would happen again in the opposite corner of the country, at a train station in Portland.

Police there would confiscate $107,460 from Simon and $166,530 from a man he was traveling with, again based on allegations of drug activity. Both times, Simon was allowed to leave — without his cash.

Details for the Orlando International Airport incident and the one in Portland appear in a lawsuit now pending in Orlando’s federal courthouse. It doesn’t target Simon. The lawsuit, which targets the money taken from him at Orlando’s airport, is named: United States of America v. $129,719 in U.S. currency.

Simon could not be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Simon, 32, who would tell authorities he had a jewelry business in Orlando, was making his way through the airport for an American Airlines 5:25 a.m. flight to Los Angeles.

“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) discovered a large amount of bundled currency in Simon’s carry-on bag as he went through the screening process at the security checkpoint,” the lawsuit states. “The information was passed on to law enforcement.”

Nestor Perez, special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, interviewed Simon, the suit says.

Simon was told he was free to leave.

“Simon chose to remain at the substation to talk to the agents about the money,” according to the lawsuit.

Simon said he planned to buy jewelry in California. The agents asked what sort.

“California has a lot of stuff going on,” Simon said.

Simon went on to say that he bought the American ticket the day before.

“Based on SA Perez’ training and experience,” the lawsuit asserts, “he knows it is common for drug traffickers and money couriers to purchase tickets with a short amount of time prior to traveling.”

Asked where the money came from, Simon said $40,000 was from jewelry pawned in Osceola County, $12,000 from a check issued by Orlando lawyer Dan Newlin for an insurance settlement and $80,000 was from a safe in his home.

“Based on SA Perez’ training and experience, he knows drug traffickers and money launderers sometimes avoid using banks,” according to the lawsuit.

Simon also said that he had won as much as $200,000 at a casino he recalled as “Napa Hill” or “Napa Valley.”

The lawsuit goes on to say that Simon happened to be in possession of his 2017 income tax return. It showed his earnings for the year were $69,662.

After the agents removed the cash from Simon’s bag, they observed a green, leafy substance at the bottom.

“Upon looking in the bag, Simon identified the green leafy substance as ‘crumbs’ and stated he smoked marijuana,” according to the lawsuit.

Simon’s cash was confiscated and remains in the custody of the U.S. government.

A TSA spokeswoman acknowledged that the agency’s priority is to keep aircraft and travelers safe but its agents will alert authorities to “possible illegal or suspicious activity.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not answer a request for comment.

The lawsuit, in attempting to bolster its case that the $129,719 seized in Orlando was linked to illegal drugs, also describes what happened in Portland.

On May 15, a drug-trafficking task force was patrolling a Portland Amtrak station, the suit says.

Task-force agents were paying particular attention to Train 27 from Chicago “known by law enforcement to be a popular route for those transporting drugs and/or drug proceeds,” the lawsuit states.

“Due to the way in which two particular men exited the train, officers made contact with the men, who were later identified as Simon and Steven Rijo,” the lawsuit states.

After a narcotics dog alerted to the presence of drugs, officers found a “large amount of currency inside Simon’s duffle bag” and more cash in Rijo’s backpack and duffle bag, the suit says.

“They both stated they were traveling from Florida to Oregon for the purpose of buying property,” according to the lawsuit, and they had been riding trains for four days.

Officers took $107,460 from Simon and $166,530 from Rijo.

Both men claimed that most of the cash was from casino winnings.

The lawsuit concludes with details on previous marijuana convictions for Simon and evidence that his business, Diamonds Gold Rolex Inc., does not exist in a legitimate fashion.

The lawsuit concludes that the $129,719 seized in Orlando was “money furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance.” and should be forfeited permanently.

A U.S. attorney’s request for permanent forfeiture of the money is pending.