New Orleans shoe shiner who had his life savings seized by DEA agents wins legal battle to have his money returned

A stack of $1000 bills. Getty Images
Nearly $30,000 was seized by Kermit Warren last fiscal year and will be returned to the government.

Warren was stripped of his life savings by 2020 DEA agents, believing that the funds were linked to drugs.

Warren stated to NBC News, "What happened to myself should never happen to anyone in this world."

Kermit Warren, a New Orleans shoe shiner, was seized by Drug Enforcement Administration agents from Columbus, Ohio in November 2020. They suspected that the money was connected to drugs.

Warren had the large sum of cash to purchase a tow truck. However, the purchase fell through and the grandfather was not able to answer questions regarding the money. Authorities took the cash from Warren, although he wasn't charged with any crime.

Warren finally has his money back after almost a year of legal and financial difficulties.

According to the Institute for Justice (a non-profit law company that represented Warren), the government reached an agreement this week to return the funds to Warren and to dismiss the civil forfeiture lawsuit against him. NBC News reached a settlement agreement that confirmed the dismissal.

Warren said that it gave him a lot of joy and peace. "What happened to my life should not happen to anyone else in the world," Warren said.

Warren lost his money via a civil asset forfeiture process. This allows the federal government, even without charging anyone with a crime to seize property of people who believe that the funds were connected to criminal activity. According to NBC, each year thousands of people are robbed of their money by authorities.

Although the rule is supported by law enforcement as a tool to fight drug traffickers, its opponents argue that it often harms innocent people and is unfairly used against people of color.

It is difficult and costly to fight civil forfeiture. Many people choose to ignore it and just count their losses.

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"Kermit's Case highlights the abuses of civil forfeiture by the federal government," a press release from the Institute for Justice said. The Institute for Justice stated in a press release that it seizes cash under the most blatant of pretexts, such as cash being carried at airports. It forces individuals to prove their innocence to recover their cash.

Warren was unable to walk away from $28,180. He had lost his job as a shoe shiner at a New Orleans hotel during the pandemic. He was looking for a truck in Ohio to expand his scrap metal business, according NBC.

After Warren and his son arrived to Ohio, the purchase was canceled and they headed back to New Orleans, with the cash. According to the outlet, the cash was initially seen by a TSA screener who allowed Warren to continue through security. Warren was soon approached by DEA agents and questioned about the funds.

Warren, who panicked and falsely claimed to be a retired officer of police, couldn't adequately explain the source money to authorities. Drug-sniffing dogs were quickly brought in. NBC reviewed court documents that indicated the presence of drugs on some money. However, research indicates that most of the currency in circulation likely contains traces of drugs.

Warren and his son were sent on their way by law enforcement who took Warren's cash. Warren challenged the government on the seizure of his money and received legal support from the Institute for Justice. After Warren's lawyers gave prosecutors text messages and financial documents exonerating Warren to the government, the government dismissed his case and agreed that the funds would be returned to Warren.

According to NBC, Warren's funds would be returned by Thanksgiving by his lawyers.

The outlet was informed by him that he will never again travel with large sums of money.

Insider has the original article.