In one of his most memorable statements, former President Ronald Reagan said in his 1981 inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”
When faced with a truly intractable problem, it’s tempting to throw our hands in the air and wait for the government to solve it. Whether it’s ensuring sustainable development, fighting the war on drugs, or any other difficult issue, the mainstream media tells us time and again that government ought to pass a law to fix it.
I beg to differ. Here are two stories about people who lost everything to government through no fault of their own. And you could be next.
Retirement Wiped Out by Executive Order
Tom and Jane Flagg have lived in Jersey City, New Jersey for the past 42 years. Only 24 hours before they were scheduled to sell their property there and retire in Tennessee, their lives fell apart.
The Flaggs arrived in Jersey City in the 1970s. The city was rife with crime, but property was cheap. They took a chance and purchased two small homes, both over 100 years old. The homes were well-built, but they needed a great deal of renovation, which the Flaggs did mostly themselves. The family lived in one home and rented out the other. The Lifeboat Strategy Best Price: $15.38 Buy New $149.90 (as of 08:30 EDT - Details)
Forty years later, the neighborhood they bought into has gentrified. Property values have skyrocketed. The Flaggs, now much older, wanted to cash in on the modest nest egg they had painstakingly created. They put the homes up for sale and quickly found a buyer. The closing date was March 24, 2018.
But at the last minute, it was all snatched away from them. On March 23, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop destroyed their retirement with the stroke of a pen. He issued an executive order to stop granting demolition permits for homes that housed four or fewer families. This directly affected the Flaggs, because their buyer planned to tear down both homes and build new structures in their place.
Fulop justified his order in the name of “architectural preservation.” The only way a builder can obtain a demolition permit now is to get approval from the Jersey City historic preservation officer. If that person turns the permit down, the builder can appeal to the Historic Preservation Commission.
Naturally, the buyer pulled out of the deal. And the executive order, while apparently well-intentioned, wound up threatening not only Tom and Jane Flaggs’ retirement but the nest eggs of thousands of other Jersey City homeowners as well.
While the ban was overturned by the Jersey City council in late April, the Flaggs have already lost their buyer. And they may never see another offer high enough to fund their retirement plans.
Life Savings Confiscated
It’s not well-known, but federal law requires anyone who transports more than $10,000 in cash or cash equivalents to make a declaration on Form 105 before crossing a US border. I do quite a bit of international travel, and I’ve only seen one or two notices posted at US airports publicizing this requirement.
Anthonia Nwaorie learned about this law the hard way. She immigrated to the US from Nigeria and became a US citizen in 1994. A registered nurse, Nwaorie has been returning to her hometown in Nigeria annually since 2014 to provide free basic medical care and checkups to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay for it.
Still, she wanted to do more; she wanted to open an actual clinic in her hometown. And over the years, she saved more than $40,000 to help finance her dream. But on October 31, 2017, agents from the US Customs Service tried to make sure that she would never build her clinic. They confiscated every dollar she was carrying as she was boarding her flight at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. At the time, she was carrying more than $37,000 in her carry-on bag and $4,000 in her purse, all in cash.
After Nwaorie attempted to answer questions the agents asked her, they escorted her to a room where they searched her luggage and purse. After finding the cash, they confiscated it and gave her a receipt. Talking among themselves, the agents speculated that Nwaorie was smuggling money out of the US for some illegal purpose. They didn’t believe her when she told them of her good intentions. How to Achieve Persona... Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $20.95 (as of 02:35 EDT - Details)
More than six months later, the Customs and Border Protection (C&BP) agency still hasn’t given Nwaorie back her money. Federal prosecutors haven’t charged her with any crime, but Uncle Sam still kept the money. She was told she could get it back only if she gave up her right to sue for wrongful seizure. And even then, there were no guarantees all of it would be returned, because she must reimburse the agency for “costs incurred in the enforcement of any part of this agreement.”
Cases like this are remarkably common. Customs agents seize property from travelers more than 120,000 times annually. Most of the time, the government keeps the property it seizes, because most people find it too expensive to hire an attorney to try to get it back. I know several attorneys who specialize in this area of the law; all of them require at least a $20,000 retainer to take on this type of case. However, the Institute for Justice (IJ), which advocates for civil forfeiture reform, agreed to take on the case without charging Nwaorie.
Earlier this month, the IJ filed a lawsuit against C&BP in Houston to get Nwaorie’s money back, without conditions. Prosecutors must now decide whether to charge her with a crime, pursue a civil asset forfeiture case against her, or both.
This case highlights the abuse inherent in the entire federal civil forfeiture process. But since civil forfeiture is such a cash cow for Uncle Sam, it’s unlikely to be reined in. Indeed, in 2012, the feds seized more than $4.6 billion in assets.
In the “land of the free, the home of the brave,” there’s only one way out. And that’s to take precautions to avoid having your assets subjected to the whim of bureaucrats or Uncle Sam’s grabby hands. In other words, a Plan B that ensures you’re not 100%-dependent on the goodwill of any one city, state, or country.
I suspect Tom and Jane Flagg and Anthonia Nwaorie would agree.
Reprinted with permission from Nestmann.com.