US returns $41,000 seized from Texas nurse who planned to open clinic

Anthonia Nwaorie will still sue after US customs seized money she was carrying en route to Nigeria to open a medical facility

Tom DartLast modified on Wed 30 May 2018 00.09 BST

A Texas nurse who had $41,000 seized by US customs last autumn as she tried to travel to Nigeria to start a medical clinic has the money back but plans to continue her lawsuit against the government.

After her case attracted widespread media attention, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) mailed Anthonia Nwaorie a cheque that she received last Friday.

“I’m glad to have my money back, but this isn’t over,” she said in a statement. “I want to make sure nobody else has to go through what I’ve been through.”

In an episode that shone a light on how law enforcement agencies conduct asset forfeiture, Nwaorie was boarding a plane in Houston last October when she was stopped by officials.

CBP confiscated the $41,377 she was carrying, the bulk of which she had saved up in order to open a clinic for women and children in Imo state, where she grew up before moving to the US in 1982.

The 59-year-old said she was unaware of the requirement to declare currency over $10,000 when leaving the US as well as upon arrival. Though Nwaorie was not charged with a crime, CBP sent her a letter in April saying that it would return the money on the condition that she sign a “hold harmless” agreement promising that she would never take legal action against the government over the episode.

Nwaorie refused to sign and instead launched a federal class-action lawsuit earlier this month which seeks to end the practice of requiring people to waive legal rights to get their money back.

CBP has declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Anya Bidwell, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a not-for-profit legal group representing Nwaorie, told the Guardian: “She’s still pursuing this lawsuit because she doesn’t want the same thing that happened to her to happen to hundreds or even thousands of others in her situation who are legally entitled to the return of their property but are being forced to sign a hold harmless agreement waiving their constitutional rights.”

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