A Vancouver, Washington, man is suing the Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly seizing $121,940 in cash he was carrying aboard a flight at Portland International Airport in 2018.
The afternoon of April 11, 2018, Steven Williams Jr. was set to fly from Portland to Phoenix.
“Plaintiff was traveling to Arizona and carrying approximately $121,940 in cash for legitimate business purposes,” a lawsuit filed in federal court in Oregon on Thursday states.
Transportation and Security Administration agents saw the cash in Williams’ luggage while he was going through security and notified the FBI, who later boarded the flight and escorted Williams off the aircraft.
“The FBI agents then asked [Williams] to explain why he was carrying the money with him, and [Williams] informed the agents about the nature of his employment and why he was carrying the money,” the lawsuit states.
William Brandt, Williams’ attorney, said in an interview they don’t need to explain why he was traveling with the money because it’s not illegal.
The lawsuit says agents searched through text messages on Williams’ phone from seven years ago they believed to be related to the sale of cannabis. Brandt declined to say whether Williams was in the legal marijuana business.
“All of that is really irrelevant,” Brandt said. “It’s heavy-handed tactics by the government.”
Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the Portland FBI field office, said late Friday the agency couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Brandt said Williams has no criminal history and has not been charged with a crime.
“If I want to go to Phoenix with $120,000 in my pocket, I can and I don’t have to justify it or explain it to anybody,” Brandt said.
Brandt said the FBI agents threatened Williams and took the money.
“The FBI agents told Plaintiff that he would be arrested if he attempted to fight the forfeiture in the future,” the lawsuit states. “Despite this fear, Plaintiff contacted the FBI through an attorney at the end of October of 2018 to request the return of his money, but the FBI informed Plaintiff that it would not be returning his money.”
An initial court date has not been set. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown.