The US government won’t specify why it abruptly seized more than $100 million from people’s safety deposit boxes in California, according to a new lawsuit.
The nonprofit Institute for Justice says it’s seeking to halt forfeiture proceedings for a group of citizens who’ve had their assets confiscated by the FBI with little to no explanation.
The case is centered on a Los Angeles-based couple who says the FBI abruptly seized $40,200 of their life savings from a safety deposit box.
Linda and Reggie Martin want to know why the FBI took their cash, along with the contents of hundreds of other people’s safety deposit boxes, from a financial storage company in Beverly Hills in March of 2021.
The couple says the agency seized their money without providing any evidence of illegal activity.
Attorney Bob Belden says the FBI’s move is plainly immoral and violates the Martins’ rights as American citizens.
“The government shouldn’t get to take your property if it can’t tell you what you did wrong.
Using civil forfeiture, the government decides for itself whether to take and try to keep property, even when it doesn’t suspect the owners of any crime. Then, the FBI sends copy-and-paste forfeiture notices that fail to tell owners anything about why it is trying to take their property. That’s not only wrong; it’s unconstitutional.”
In total, the FBI’s operation seized more than $100 million in cash, gold, jewelry and other valuables from hundreds of people at the Beverly Hills location, according to the Institute for Justice.
The agency sent blanket notices that “indirectly refer to hundreds of federal crimes”, but the government refuses to say what the couple specifically did wrong.
The new lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asks the court to halt administrative proceedings for everyone who has received one of the FBI’s forfeiture notices.
To date, Linda says she and her husband have not been charged with a crime, and there is no indication that they will ever see their money again.
“The FBI took my savings nearly two years ago but has never told me why. It’s been a confusing and frustrating process from the day my money was taken. No one should have to go through this.”
Institute for Justice senior attorney Rob Frommer says civil and criminal forfeiture is a big money maker for federal law enforcement.
“Thousands of times every year, people receive paltry notices that merely say the government wants to forfeit their property because it might be wrapped up in one of hundreds of federal crimes.
Linda’s plight highlights the ugly truth that federal forfeiture incentivizes agents to seize as much as they can, even absent any reason to think that a crime was committed. The FBI’s ‘policing for profit’ deliberately leaves property owners in the dark in order to keep them from fighting back.”
According to the Institute, a federal judge has stated that a separate client involved in the same safety deposit seizure operation received an “anemic” forfeiture notice, and the FBI violated due process and the Fifth Amendment.Don't Miss a Beat – Subscribe to get email alerts delivered directly to your inbox
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