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CBP Sued For Seizing $41,000 From Airline Passenger, Then Refusing To Give It Back Unless She Promised Not To Sue

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Another case of asset forfeiture is the subject of a federal lawsuit. Like many others, the plaintiff has obtained the assistance of the Institute for Justice in battling the government for the return of seized assets. In this case, a US citizen saw $41,000 of hers disappear into the government's custody when she attempted to take it to her hometown in Nigeria to start a medical clinic.After detaining her for hours at the airport, the CBP decided it could keep the money Anthonie Nwaorie lawfully earned.

CBP took the money because Nwaorie, a U.S. citizen since 1994 who lives in Katy, had not declared that she was taking more than $10,000 out of the country — a technical requirement that her lawyers say is not well-publicized or easy to comply with.
If this was the only problem, it was "solved" by Customs officials detaining Nwaorie long enough for her to miss her flight. No money left the country, undeclared or not. If this was criminal act in need of punishment, the CBP could have turned this over to prosecutors. But none of this happened. The CBP simply took the money and ghosted Nwaorie. From the lawsuit [PDF]:
After receiving a CAFRA [Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act] seizure notice from CBP in November 2017, Anthonia timely submitted a claim under CAFRA on December 12, 2017, requesting that CBP refer the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for court action, thus electing a judicial forfeiture proceeding rather than an administrative forfeiture proceeding. The USAO declined to pursue forfeiture of the seized cash and the government failed to timely file a forfeiture complaint within the 90-day period required under CAFRA. At this point, CAFRA automatically required that CBP “promptly release” the seized property.
The money was never released, despite the CBP's clear legal obligation. Instead, the agency attempted to force her into granting it a permanent pass from civil liability in exchange for her cash it had never bothered processing.
[R]ather than promptly releasing the seized cash to Anthonia as required under federal law, CBP instead sent Anthonia a letter dated April 4, 2018, conditioning the return of the seized cash on Anthonia signing a Hold Harmless Agreement that waives her constitutional and statutory rights, and requires her to accept new legal liabilities, such as indemnifying the government for any claims brought by others related to the seized property. The letter stated that if Anthonia did not sign the Hold Harmless Agreement within 30 days from the date of the letter, “administrative forfeiture proceedings will be initiated.” On the other hand, if she signed the Hold Harmless Agreement, the letter said she would be mailed a “refund check” for the full amount of the seized cash in 8 to 10 weeks.
This is the government holding someone else's money hostage -- nothing more. The CBP has a legal obligation to return property it isn't going to process through the courts. There's nothing in the law demanding citizens waive a bunch of their rights just to reclaim what the government has taken from them.This will be a tough case for the government to defend. The CBP accused Nwaorie of breaking federal law, but never followed through on that claim. It kept her money but never bothered processing it as an administrative or judicial forfeiture. It apparently assumed she would never challenge the seizure. When she did, it told her it would keep the money unless she agreed in writing to never pursue the government for its bogus and badly-handled seizure.As for the law the CBP claimed she had broken -- not declaring funds over $10,000 when leaving the country -- Nwaorie points out the government has done nothing to make travelers aware of this requirement. She states she's aware this is required when entering the country (declarations of cash, etc. being brought into the country) but had no idea the government demands the same declaration when exiting. As she points out in her lawsuit, multiple government travel tip website pages have nothing at all to say about cash reporting requirements.
Information about the currency reporting requirement for travelers departing the United States is not found in lists of tips for international travelers on government websites such as: CBP’s “U.S. Traveler’s Top Ten Travel Tips” webpage, https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/us-travelers-top-ten-travel-tips; the list of “Documents You Will Need” (or elsewhere) on CBP’s “Before Your Trip” webpage, https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/your-trip; the list of required documents on the State Department’s “Traveler’s Checklist” webpage: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/travelerschecklist.html; TSA’s “Top Travel Tips,” https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips/; TSA’s “Travel Checklist,” https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips/travel-checklist; or TSA’s “FAQ” for travelers, https://www.tsa.gov/travel/frequently-asked-questions.
On top of that, the reporting must be done at the time of the flight, but the office where the reporting is handled is not even located on the airport's property, much less in the terminal. And then there's the petty grubbiness of the CBP officers' actions -- like their decision to cut open her bag to access the cash, rather than use the key she provided them, and threatening to harass and detain her in the future any time she decides to board an international flight.There's no questioning what the law says the government must do in cases like this. Her lawsuit quotes the relevant text from CAFRA:
Under CAFRA, if the government fails to file a complaint “before the time for filing a complaint has expired” (and does not obtain a criminal indictment containing an allegation that the property was subject to forfeiture), “the Government shall promptly release the property pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Attorney General and may not take any further action to effect the civil forfeiture of such property in connection with the underlying offense.”
Here, the CBP shrugged off its statutory obligations and compounded it by tying the money's return to a promise not to sue. That thuggish plan has backfired.

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Steam Yanks Another Developer's Games Over Fake Reviews Posted By Employee

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Astro-turfing and fake reviews continue to be plagues upon the online marketplace, creating a wave of distrust with the public when it comes to properly assessing any business via online means. It's impossible to know how big or small a problem this is, which only adds to the distrust in the public, forcing them to assume the worst. All that being said, Valve has actually been pretty good about policing reviews on its gaming platform, Steam, and also making a big public stink about instances in which it has had to take action against developers for trying to game the review system. Studios have had their games pulled from the store entirely, such as when Digital Homicide and Insel Games each had their respective titles pulled. Given that Valve made sure the volume was turned up when it took such actions, one would think that game studios ought to have gotten the message by now.And, yet, not all of them have. Acram Digital, a developer that makes digital versions of board games, just had all of its titles disappeared by Steam when it was discovered that an Acram employee was creating fake Steam accounts and posting fake positive reviews. As it did so, Valve released the following statement.

We’ve received a number of reports for Steam review manipulation on the titles Steam: Rails to Riches and Eight-Minute Empire, from Acram Digital. After investigating these reports we have found that the developer, Grzegorz Kubas, has been trying to inflate the user review score for his titles. This is against our policy, and something we take very seriously.Because of Grzegorz's actions, we have removed all games/DLC developed by Acram from our store, and will no longer be doing business with him. Existing owners will be able to keep their titles.
Say what you will about Steam, but the platform has had a steady stream of consumer-friendly practices rolled out to gamers everywhere. These types of actions, particularly when accompanied by a public statement like this, are fantastic ways to preserve the trust gamers have in the platform and its review system. It's also a good way to demonstrate that, despite Steam wanting as many games as possible in its store, the platform also values the feedback and interests of its gaming customers.For his part, Kubas has admitted to the wrong-doing, while also pleading on behalf of his employer.
You are right. I'm guilty. It came from my frustration of few bad, unfair reviews on Valve's Steam only. It was stupid action, not something planned. This is my individual, bad behavior, not the team, so I would like to blame me, not the devs. It's a lesson for the rest of my life and it will not happen again, ever.
Good on him for taking responsibility in this way, although it sure would be difficult to place full trust in the rest of the studio when one of its employees actively attempted to fool potential customers in this way. Maybe it's true that Acram had no idea he was doing this. Maybe not. The public sure can't know the answer to that question and it seems likely that the trust has been broken beyond repair at this point regardless.Either way, game developers really ought to know at this point that there is no percentage in fake reviews. The costs are simply too high.

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