31 USC §5224(c)(3): Dividing money and/or property to avoid import and export requirements. Legal loophole, or foolish rabbit hole?

D31 USC §5224(c)(3), dividing money and/or property to avoid import and export requirements, Dulles International Airport Money Seizure

Dividing money and/or property to avoid import and export requirements:

Customs seizure law 31 USC  § 5317 requires a party to report if they are carrying more than $10,000.00 in monetary instruments. Nine times out of ten, it turns out that clients have run afoul of this requirement by mistake. The customs agents and investigators know this, but statute does not require bad faith: it is basically strict liability. If you are carrying more than $10,000.00 it will be seized, regardless of whether it was a mistake or not. Most frequently people have forgotten they are carrying so much money, do not realize that things like traveler’s checks are considered monetary instruments, or they fail to account for the sums that others they are traveling with are carrying. Generally our offices can prove that these people are innocent owners of the money, and that it was sourced legally with the result of getting a full refund of the assets.

However, what about the case where customs agents genuinely believe you are trying to smuggle money out of the country? For example if you have $19,000.00 that you are trying to get to a relative for whatever reason and it has been split into two separate transactions of $9,500.00. Will this avoid customs seizure and ramifications? 31 USC §5224(c)(3) provides:

(c) International Monetary Instrument Transactions.— No person shall, for the purpose of evading the reporting requirements of section 5316

(1) fail to file a report required by section 5316, or cause or attempt to cause a person to fail to file such a report;

(2) file or cause or attempt to cause a person to file a report required under section5316 that contains a material omission or misstatement of fact; or

(3) structure or assist in structuring, or attempt to structure or assist in structuring, any importation or exportation of monetary instruments.

According to this, it is illegal to ask a friend to carry some amount (and also ineffective if you are traveling together), or to send funds weeks or even years apart. Regardless of whether you have other reasons to split up the money, if even one of your reasons is to get around the statute you are in violation. Remember, in a customs seizure proceeding the burden is on you, the Petitioner not the government to prove that you are an innocent owner of the money, that it was sourced lawfully, and that you did not split it up for the purposes of avoiding the federal statute.

See some examples of what the government considers “Structuring” in its self-published pamphlet:


Time is of the essence in currency seizure cases and it is important to immediately file a petition for relief. The longer the money remains in the custody of U.S. Customs, the more likely that the assets will be forfeited to the government. Customs seizure law is complex, and it is important to have experienced legal representation throughout the process. Most of the currency that is seized will ultimately be forfeited to the government, primarily due to a lack of aggressive recovery efforts. This is an area of the law where an attorney with expertise can prove extremely valuable.

To retain our experienced customs seizures lawyers call (877) 406-6906., or contact us with a private message, we practice throughout the US.

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