March 7, 2023

Linda Martin thought she found a safe place to store cash she and her husband Reggie were setting aside to purchase a home. That place was a safe deposit box company in upscale Beverly Hills that had been around for years and sported state-of-the-art security measures. But now her home savings are in the hands of the FBI and she may never see it again, even though she did nothing wrong.

Months after storing her savings at US Private Vaults, Linda found out by watching the local news that the FBI had raided the business. Linda, knowing she had done nothing wrong, initially hoped the FBI would quickly return her money. But months later, the FBI acted on its hidden plan to profit from the tens of millions of dollars in valuables customers had stored at the business.

It sent forfeiture notices to hundreds of box renters telling them the government wanted to take their property forever, even though they were not named in the indictment against the company and even though the FBI’s warrant explicitly directed agents to only open boxes for the purpose of identifying owners.

The notice Linda received was nearly identical to all the others sent out. It referred indirectly to hundreds of different federal laws that might give reason for the government to take the $40,200 in savings she had placed in her box. It did not say what the FBI thought Linda herself had done wrong, and she has not been charged with any crime.

Linda did not realize that by selecting the first option on the confusing form, “file a petition for remission,” she was leaving it completely in the hands of the FBI whether to return any of her savings. To this day, the FBI is keeping her money with no indication whether it will return a single dollar.

That’s why Linda has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a nationwide class-action lawsuit challenging the FBI’s forfeiture notices. Requiring the government to explain why it is forfeiting someone’s property is critical to preventing wrongful seizures and attempted forfeitures.