Published on:

En Route to Las Vegas? Then the Money Belongs to Las Vegas, not the DEA

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that what happens en route to Las Vegas creates jurisdiction in Las Vegas.

Gina Fiore and Keith Gipson, residents of Las Vegas, Nevada, took a gambling trip to Atlantic City, NJ and San Juan, Puerto Rico. On the way home, as they changed planes in Atlanta, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents questioned Fiore and Gipson regarding the origins of the $97 thousand they were carrying. The DEA also brought a drug-detecting dog into their boarding area. When the dog pawed Gipson’s bag, the DEA agents seized the $97 thousand as drug contraband. When Fiore and Gipson later produced receipts showing the legitimacy of the money, the DEA refused to return their cash.

The matter was forwarded to DEA headquarters, where a U.S. Attorney determined that the DEA agents had omitted information in their affidavit, in order to justify the money seizure. The U.S. Attorney offered to return Fiore and Gipson’s funds in exchange for a release, presumably of legal claims, against the DEA. Though Fiore and Gipson refused, the DEA did eventually return the seized money. Fiore and Gipson still filed a Bivens action against the DEA alleging Fourth Amendment violations in Nevada. A Bivens action provides for damages remedies for constitutional violations committed by federal agents.
A district court dismissed the action, finding that there was not personal jurisdiction over the DEA in Nevada. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed noting that the DEA’s actions were “performed with the purpose of having … consequences felt by someone in Las Vegas.” The Atlanta DEA knew Fiore and Gipson had no connection to Georgia, lived in Nevada, and were on an airplane headed home to Nevada. Further, even if the Atlanta DEA did not know the Nevada connections at the time the money was seized, the DEA learned of these connections at some point before providing the alleged false affidavit and referring the case for forfeiture proceedings.

The commentary is for educational and commentary purposes only. If you or someone you know has had your money seized by the DEA or another government agency, and would like to be represented by a Nevada attorney, contact our office for a free confidential case review and receive a response within hours. Call Toll Free 866-414-0400.