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DHS steals a man’s boat because he refuses to lie on a form

DHS_W_atI live a fairly simple life and that didn’t change much after I sold TechCrunch in 2010. I didn’t buy a new house or even a new car. The one thing I did splurge on was a boat.

Nothing too fancy or large. I live near Seattle and there’s a big boating culture up here. I found a small company that builds boats specifically for this area called Coastal Craft. I ordered it in 2011 and planned on writing about the experience after it was delivered.

I named her Buddy. It has state of the art electronics and a fairly new highly efficient propulsion system that the TechCrunch audience would be interested in.

There’s a whole story about the disaster of buying a new boat from this company that I’ll write about another day. Needless to say I’ll never be writing the glowing story I first intended. Instead it will be a cautionary tale.

Buying this boat was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made, and the nightmare is only just starting.

Today, though, I’m going to write about how the Department of Homeland Security seized that boat. Twice before today the company tried to deliver Buddy to me. Each time mechanical problems forced a return to Canada.

Today was the third try, and I really thought it was going to happen. Buddy has to clear customs, part of the DHS, since she was built in Canada.

My job was to show up and sign forms and then leave with Buddy (WA sales tax and registration fees come a week later).

DHS takes documents supplied by the builder and creates a government form that includes basic information about the boat, including the price.

The primary form, prepared by the government, had an error. The price was copied from the invoice, but DHS changed the currency from Canadian to U.S. dollars.

It has language at the bottom with serious sounding statements that the information is true and correct, and a signature block.

I pointed out the error and suggested that we simply change the currency from US $ to CAD $ so that is was correct. Or instead, amend the amount so that it was correct in U.S. dollars.

I thought this was important because I was signing it and swearing that the information, and specifically the price, was correct. The DHS agent didn’t care about the error and told me to sign the form anyway. “It’s just paperwork, it doesn’t matter,” she said. I declined.

She called another agent and said simply “He won’t sign the form.” I asked to speak to that agent to give them a more complete picture of the situation. She wouldn’t allow that. Then she seized the boat. As in, demanded that we get off the boat, demanded the keys and took physical control of it.

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