It was Feb. 17, 2014, and Charles Clarke, 24, just wanted to get home.

After spending several weeks with family in Cincinnati, Ohio, Clarke arrived at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Ky., for a flight back to Orlando, Fla., where his mother lived and where he would be taking classes at the University of Central Florida.

With $11,000 in his pocket—the culmination of five years worth of savings from various jobs, financial aid, gifts from family members and benefits from his mother, a disabled veteran—Clarke checked his bag and headed to the gate to await the departure of his flight.

He would eventually return home, but the cash Clarke had in his pocket didn’t make it.

Instead, the weight of the federal government came down on the 24-year-old, and his $11,000 was seized by federal and state law enforcement before he ever boarded the plane.

“I’m not a drug dealer. I’ve never been,” Clarke said. “I didn’t have any plans on doing anything illegal. I was just trying to get home.”

‘Treated Like a Criminal’

Clarke brought the money with him to Cincinnati, Ohio, he said, because his mother was moving apartments, and he didn’t want the moving company to find his money. Additionally, because his bank had few branches, he felt safer knowing his money was near.

After Clarke checked his bag and headed to the gate, a ticketing agent with U.S. Airways—unbeknownst to the young man—placed a call to agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport Police Department. The ticketing agent told the officers that Clarke’s luggage smelled like marijuana, according to an affidavit filed by William Conrad, a Cincinnati-based officer with a DEA task force, with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.


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