In a disturbing display of government overreach, an innocent couple’s life savings were seized by the FBI, exposing the dark side of civil asset forfeiture and the urgent need for reform.

The couple’s life savings were seized by the FBI two years ago, and they may never see their money again, all due to the agency’s exploitation of legal loopholes through civil asset forfeiture.

U.S. Private Vaults Inc., a storage company in the Los Angeles area, was raided by the FBI when the owners were discovered to have facilitated money laundering for drug dealers. Although the owners accepted a plea bargain to avoid charges, the FBI managed to seize $86 million in cash and millions more in jewelry and other valuables from various deposit boxes at the facility. While some boxes were used for illegal activities, others belonged to innocent people who had entrusted the company with their valuable possessions.

Linda Martin and Reggie Wilder, a married couple, had stored $40,200 in one such deposit box, intending to use the money to buy a home. The FBI seized their money without any explanation, leaving them in the dark. Now, two years later, the couple still has not received any answers.

The Institute for Justice is stepping in to help by filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people like Martin and Wilder who, through no fault of their own, have lost their valuables and cash due to civil forfeiture.

Attorney Bob Belden of the Institute for Justice argues that the government should not be able to take property without explaining the reason behind it. He asserts that the FBI’s use of civil forfeiture and vague forfeiture notices is not only wrong but unconstitutional.

“The FBI took my savings nearly two years ago but has never told me why,” Linda Martin said 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.”

Robert Frommer, another attorney with the Institute for Justice, accused the FBI of lying to a federal judge when obtaining a warrant to seize the deposit boxes. He believes the agency’s primary motive was a cash grab, stating, “Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops into robbers.”

Unfortunately, civil forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to seize money or belongings from anyone they can convince a judge might have committed a crime. In this case, trusting their valuables to a company involved in illegal activities was enough for innocent people like Martin and Wilder to lose their possessions. The burden of proof lies with the victims, not the FBI.

Despite their frustration and anger, Martin and Wilder are not alone. Other customers of U.S. Private Vaults Inc. have reported similar experiences. The Institute for Justice reveals that the FBI used civil forfeiture to seize $1.19 billion in cash from 2017 to 2021. This state-sanctioned theft, though legal, is widely considered unconstitutional by legal experts.

Sources: TheGatewayPundit, Fox News, Forbes, The Los Angeles Times

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