Society

U.S. Customs Seizes Sailboat and Cigars Without Proving a Crime?

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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An American sailing to Puerto Rico claims U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized his 46-foot sailboat after mistaking the cheap Dominican cigars they found below deck for Cuban stogies.

Jeff Southworth, a retired Ford Motor Company Engineer, said he and a friend were sailing the Janice Ann to Puerto Rico when local police stopped them a few miles offshore. CBP at the scene told Southworth to dock so they could search the vessel. Below the deck of the Janice Ann they found 33 boxes of cigars. Customs officers then handcuffed Southworth, intending to seize the $90,000 sailboat.

“I think my civil liberties have been completely walked over,” Southworth told the Daily Caller.

Violating the Cuban embargo makes Americans subject to civil and criminal penalties, but Southworth maintains that the cigars were cheap, Dominican knock-offs, which he bought as gifts for friends.

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The CBP has decide to pursue a civil asset forfeiture, which allows prosecutors to seize the accused’s property without proving that he committed a crime. Southworth does not have to be charged by the federal government to lose the Janice Ann. All prosecutors must do is prove to a judge that the sailboat was an instrument of illegal activity.

“If it’s ever so slightly more likely than not that … your evidence is believable, you win under a preponderance standard,” said Virginia-based lawyer and forfeiture expert David Smith.
Southworth said customs agents told him a cigar expert at their office could confirm if the cigars were in fact not Cuban-made.

However, on Jan. 3, when Southworth turned up at the CBP office no cigar expert ever materialized. He says he waited at the CBP office for hours.

Eventually officers gave him an Assent to Forfeiture form listing the 33 cigar boxes. Southworth said he signed the form thinking only the cigars would be taken. He claimed he had not slept in 40 hours or eaten in 15 hours. Instead, he said, the CBP confiscated his entire boat and the $2,000 on board.

Source: Daily Caller