Avatar photo
BY Francis Akhalbey, 12:00pm March 28, 2023,

FBI won’t return $40k seized from couple though they weren’t implicated in any crime

The Martins was part of several customers whose properties the FBI seized after a raid at the California branch of US Private Vaults -- Photo Credit: Institue for Justice

A couple whose $40,200 was seized by the FBI during a March 2021 raid of the U.S. Private Vaults’ Beverly Hills, California, branch is yet to receive an explanation from the agency on why their money has not been returned. 

According to Business Insider Africa, Linda and Reggie Martin were keeping their cash in a deposit box at the company when the raid occurred. Court documents stated that the FBI accessed 1,400 safe-deposit boxes and seized over $86 million in cash as well as other valuables, but hundreds of customers affected by the raid were not implicated in any crime.

The couple got to know about the raid through local news. “The FBI took my savings nearly two years ago but has never told me why,” said Linda Martin in a news release. “It’s been a confusing and frustrating process from the day my money was taken. No one should have to go through this.” 

The Martins are plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed against the FBI as well as its Director, and are being represented by the Institute for Justice. “They were just supposed to identify owners so they could claim their property, but the FBI instead acted on its months-old plan to search and try to forfeit the contents of any box worth more than $5,000,” the non-profit law firm stated.

The box holders received forfeiture notices from the FBI months after the agency seized their properties. The FBI informed Martin and other box holders that “the government wanted to take their property forever, even though they were not named in the indictment against the company.”

Martin stated in the press release that the decision by the FBI left her “utterly bewildered.” In her lawsuit, she alleged the FBI had violated her Fifth Amendment. The law stipulates that government can only justify forfeiture if the reasons it gives are specifically factual and legal, Insider reported.

“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,” Institute for Justice lawyer Bob Belden said.

“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.”

The FBI was also accused of being untruthful about why it conducted the raid in a May 2022 lawsuit that was filed by many affected US Private Vaults customers. “Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops into robbers,” Institute for Justice lawyer, Robert Frommer, said. 

The FBI was ultimately ordered to halt the forfeiture process against the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The judge also ruled that the notices the FBI sent were “anemic”, adding that the agency should make the renters aware of “the factual bases for seizure and the specific statutory provision allegedly violated.”

A District Court judge in September, however, ruled that the FBI agents involved in the raid did not commit any search and seizure laws violation. In the wake of the raid, U.S. Private Vaults shut down and pleaded guilty to conspiring with customers to launder drug money.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 28, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates