A couple whose safety deposit box was seized by the FBI two years ago as the bureau conducted a money laundering investigation into the owners of the storage company has not and might not ever receive their life savings back.
The FBI has allegedly used loopholes in order to legally line its pockets through civil asset forfeiture.
The owners of a Los Angeles-area company called U.S. Private Vaults Inc. were raided by the bureau after it was discovered they had been allowing drug dealers to launder money through the business, The Los Angeles Times reported.
They accepted a plea bargain that would see them not charged with any crimes but did allow the FBI to take $86 million in cash from various deposit boxes stored at their business. The Times reported millions of dollars more in jewelry and other items were also taken.
Some of the boxes had been used to further illegal activities.
Others were rented by ordinary people who used them to safely store precious items or money.
Linda Martin and Reggie Wilder, a married couple, were among those who said they did nothing wrong, other than choose the wrong business to store the $40,200 they hoped to use to purchase a home.
They were given a notice their money had been taken and offered no explanation as to why or if it would ever be returned.
That was two years ago.
The nest egg was seized by the FBI in March of 2021 a legal group is suing the bureau on their behalf.
The Institute for Justice has filed a class action lawsuit in the hopes in get get money back on behalf of numerous people who through no fault of their own lost valuables and cash to civil forfeiture.
The FBI has presumably taken the money and will use it for its own benefit.
But not if Institute for Justice attorney Bob Belden can help.
“The government shouldn’t get to take your property if it can’t tell you what you did wrong,” Belden said in a news release. “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.”
Belden added, “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.”
Martin explained in the release that the bureau had put her through a major headache.
“The FBI took my savings nearly two years ago but has never told me why,” she said. “It’s been a confusing and frustrating process from the day my money was taken. No one should have to go through this.”
VICE previously spoke to another attorney with the Institute for Justice who said the FBI lied in this case when it went to a federal judge for a warrant to take the boxes.
Lawyer Robert Frommer claimed the bureau’s plan from the beginning was a cash grab.
“The government has a duty to be honest with the court when it applies for a warrant under the Fourth Amendment,” Frommer said. “But the FBI lied about its intentions in claiming to only be interested in the property of the business, and not the box holders. Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops into robbers.”
Sadly, under civil forfeiture, law enforcement agencies can seize the money or belongings of anyone they can convince a judge might have committed a crime.
In this case, people who entrusted their valuables to people who had committed crimes was enough to get them swept up in the mess.
Civil forfeiture is a legal grey area that puts the burden of proof on those whose belongings have been taken, and not the other way around — meaning Martin and Wilder need to prove they are innocent of some crime they have not been accused of.
No one at the FBI is in a hurry to help Linda Martin and Reggie Wilder recover what is essentially stolen loot.
“I felt misled. I felt angry,” Martin told Fox News in an interview. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”
Other former U.S. Private Vaults Inc. customers have expressed identical experiences, Forbes reported.
According to the Institute for Justice, the FBI used civil forfeiture to grab $1.19 billion in cash from 2017 until 2021.
The state-sanctioned theft is completely legal and, according to legal experts, it is also unconstitutional.
Where are the members of the House and Senate? Why are they not going after the FBI on this? Oh, that’s right. This is CA which means they are probably all Democrats and think all money belongs to the government.