The US government will not specify why it abruptly seized more than $100 million from private safes in California, according to a new lawsuit.
The nonprofit Institute for Justice said it was seeking to end forfeiture proceedings against a group of citizens whose assets were confiscated by the FBI with little or no explanation.
The case centers on a Los Angeles-based couple who say the FBI won’t say why he suddenly seized $40,200 of their life savings from a safe.
Linda and Reggie Martin want to know why the FBI took their money, along with the contents of hundreds of other people’s safes, from a financial storage company in Beverly Hills in March 2021.
The couple say the agency seized their money without providing any evidence of illegal activity.
Attorney Bob Belden said the FBI’s decision was patently immoral and violated the Martins’ rights as American citizens.
“The government shouldn’t take your property if they can’t tell you what you did wrong.
By using civil forfeiture, the government decides for itself to take and try to keep property, even if it does not suspect the owners of a crime. Then the FBI sends out copy-and-paste forfeiture notices that tell the owners nothing about why they are trying to take their property. This is not just wrong; it is unconstitutional.
In total, the FBI operation seized more than $100 million in cash, gold, jewelry and other valuables from hundreds of people at the Beverly Hills site, according to the Institute for Justice.
The agency sent general notices that “indirectly refer to hundreds of federal crimes,” but the government declines to say what specifically the couple 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 anyone who received any 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 back.
“The FBI took my savings almost two years ago but never told me why. It has been a confusing and frustrating process from the day my money was taken. No one should have to go through this.”
The Institute for Justice’s senior attorney, Rob Frommer, said civil and criminal forfeiture is a major source of revenue for federal law enforcement.
“Thousands of times each year, people receive derisory notices that simply say the government wants to confiscate their property because it might be wrapped up in one of hundreds of federal crimes.
Linda’s plight highlights the sad truth that federal forfeiture encourages officers to seize as much as they can, even in the absence of any reason to believe a crime has been committed. The FBI’s “for-profit police” deliberately leave homeowners in the dark to prevent them from fighting back. »
According to the Institute, a federal judge ruled that a separate client involved in the same security deposit seizure transaction received an “anemic” notice of forfeiture, and that the FBI violated due process and the Fifth Amendment.
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