Anthonia Nwaorie is in the middle of a custody battle—for her money, reports the Washington Post. The 59-year-old registered nurse and US citizen from Katy, Texas, had saved up for years in order to open a clinic in Nigeria that would provide free medical care. In October, she carefully packed $41,377 in her purse and a carry-on bag. She also packed medical supplies in her checked luggage. But she never made it to Imo state, where she grew up. As she was about to get on the plane at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, she was stopped by US customs agents. They searched her luggage and took the money, which she didn't realize she was required to declare, suspecting that she was smuggling. More than six months later, she has not been charged with a crime and prosecutors declined to pursue civil asset forfeiture—yet she has not gotten her money back.
She was told she would get the money back if she signed a document agreeing not to sue the government. She said no and turned to Dan Alban, a lawyer for Institute for Justice. He believes that the government is requiring Nwaorie to give up her first amendment rights in order to get her money back. She is now suing the government over asset forfeiture, a fairly common practice in which law enforcement officials seize property and keep it, often without charging anyone for a crime. The Guardian describes a notorious case in Texas in which asset forfeiture funds were used to pay for a margarita machine at a barbecue. The lawsuit is seeking class-action status with the goal of voiding all so-called "hold harmless agreements." Nwaorie’s case shows how good people with good intentions can be abused by the system, says one of her lawyers. “If she’s not safe from civil forfeiture then nobody is safe from civil forfeiture.” (Read more nurses stories.)