FBI Returns Life Savings in Bid to Get Out of Lawsuit
More than three years ago, the FBI aimed a dragnet raid at a Los Angeles private vault company. In the process, the FBI took more than $100 million from customer safe deposit boxes—including $40,200 from Linda Martin.
The FBI had no idea who Linda was when it seized the cash. It didn’t know that Linda and her husband, Reggie, were saving to buy a home. And when the FBI decided to forfeit and keep her life savings, the agency never told Linda what it thought she had done wrong. So, earlier this year, IJ launched our second class-action lawsuit against the FBI—this time for keeping Linda and other property owners in the dark during so-called administrative forfeiture proceedings.
Barely a month after Linda and IJ filed suit, the FBI decided to return the money (with a modest amount of interest).
This is a tremendous win and long-awaited relief for Linda. But the FBI didn’t do it out of the goodness of its heart; its motives were much less wholesome. When it decided to return Linda’s savings, the FBI asked the court to dismiss her claims, arguing there’s no longer a dispute for the court to resolve.
As Liberty & Law readers likely suspect, the FBI is wrong about that. IJ filed Linda’s case as a class action so that we could obtain justice not only for Linda but also for potentially thousands more like her.
When the government takes and tries to keep property, we argue, it must tell people the factual and legal reasons why. The forfeiture notice the FBI sent Linda didn’t provide that basic information. The same is true of the boilerplate notices the FBI has sent to hundreds or even thousands of others.
Even though Linda has her cash back, potentially thousands of other innocent property owners have been victimized by the FBI’s contentless forfeiture notices. Either the FBI must give those people the basic facts explaining why the government took their property and wants to keep it forever—or it must return their property, too.
Linda and IJ will keep fighting until it does.
Bob Belden is an IJ attorney.
Also in this issue
Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!
Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.