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Airport passenger ‘too scared’ to ask FBI for $121K back

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — ​”This is outrageous. Law enforcement shouldn’t be doing this,” Bill Brandt told KOIN 6 News. 

Brandt is the lawyer for Steven Williams who filed a lawsuit against the FBI this week after the agency took $121,940 cash he was carrying in his luggage on a flight from Portland to Phoenix. Brandt said his client is in the car business and was taking the money to Arizona to purchase a vehicle, possibly a Corvette.​

According to the lawsuit the Vancouver man was sitting in his seat waiting for his plane to push back from the terminal at Portland International Airport on April 11, 2018 when FBI agents boarded the plane and ordered him to go with them.​

Back in the terminal, surrounded by other travelers, the agents asked him to explain why he was carrying so much cash. Nearly a year later, the Vancouver man is suing the FBI to get the money back. ​

“It’s not illegal to have cash,” said Brandt. “They just took the money from him and didn’t charge him with a crime.”​

Brandt said the FBI has a policy that requires a person like his client to ask for their money back with 30 days after it’s seized, but he said his client missed the deadline because he was intimidated. ​

“They scared the hell out of him,” said Brandt. “He was told his life would be miserable if he contested any of this.”​

Beth Anne Steele, a spokesperson for the FBI in Portland, told KOIN 6 the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits. ​

According to the case filed in Federal Court in Portland, Williams first drew the suspicion of TSA agents, when they spotted the cash in his luggage while going through security. They let him go on to his gate but contacted the FBI office in Portland.​

Williams said the agents threatened to “drag him through the airport,” and later “raid his home” if he didn’t let them search his phone and belongings. He thought he didn’t have a choice, so he handed over his phone. ​

The lawsuit claims the agents searched through years worth of texts, finding messages from 7 years ago they believed were related to selling cannabis.  

Brandt said his client is not in the marijuana business and he told the agents the texts and cash were not related to any criminal activity. He said he was carrying the cash for “legitimate business purposes.” 

The FBI eventually let Williams go and kept his cash.​

Brandt hopes to obtain surveillance from the airport showing what happened to his client. ​

Williams’ lawsuit claims the agents acted unconstitutionally and in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. He is requesting his confiscated money back and payment for attorney’s fees and litigation costs. 

The FBI has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit in Federal Court. ​