Back in 2021, the FBI seized several safety deposit boxes with ties to a criminal organization. In the fray, a couple’s life savings was taken and is yet to be recovered.
The FBI reportedly used civil asset forfeiture loopholes to enrich itself.
The Los Angeles Times stated the bureau raided U.S. Private Vaults Inc. after discovering the proprietors had allowed drug dealers to launder money using the business.
In an indictment against U.S. Private Vaults, Inc., the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles accused the company of marketing itself deliberately to attract criminals.
“We don’t even want to know your name,” it advertised, according to prosecutors.https://t.co/ZDQSpiWuCz
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) April 3, 2021
How Innocent People Were Roped In
The business agreed to a plea deal to spare them criminal charges in exchange for letting the FBI seize $86 million in cash from various safe deposit boxes kept with them. The Times stated millions more in jewelry and other valuables were seized.
Some boxes supported illegal activity; many others had been leased by regular people who used them to store valuables or cash securely.
Married couple Linda Martin and Reggie Wilder said they did nothing wrong, except choose the wrong firm to store their $40,200 to buy a home.
They were told their money had been taken, but not why or if it would be restored. This occurred two years ago. The FBI seized the nest egg in March 2021 and a legal collective is suing the agency on their behalf.
The Institute for Justice filed a class action complaint on behalf of many people who lost items and cash to civil forfeiture through no fault of their own. The FBI likely took the money for its use.
However, not if Bob Belden of the Institute for Justice can help.
In a news release, Belden argued if the government can’t explain what someone did wrong, it shouldn’t be allowed to seize their property.
However, the government can use civil forfeiture to decide whether to seize and attempt to keep the property, even if it has no reason to believe the owners have committed a crime.
Using #civilforfeiture, the FBI wants to keep forever the $40k life savings it seized from @IJ client Linda Martin's safe deposit box without ever telling her why. If @TimWalberg (R), @RepRaskin (D), etc. agree this abuse needs to end, why hasn't it? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/KaaKjcOZrg
— Bob Belden (@Bob_Belden_) April 5, 2023
Another Institute for Justice counsel told VICE that the FBI lied to a federal judge seeking a warrant to take the boxes. Lawyer Robert Frommer alleged the bureau’s initial strategy was a financial grab.
Unfortunately, civil forfeiture allows police enforcement to seize the property of anyone they can show a judge committed a crime. In this instance, people who trusted criminals with valuables were enough to drag them into the mess.
Due to the legal ambiguity surrounding civil forfeiture, Martin and Wilder must demonstrate their innocence of any crime they have not been charged with to avoid having their property forfeited.
The FBI has little interest in helping Linda Martin and Reggie Wilder retrieve their stolen property.