Institue for Justice
- The FBI seized a couple’s savings they held in a deposit box in a raid in March 2021.
- Linda Martin said the agency had never explained why it’s still holding her $40,200.
- She and her husband have filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the nonprofit Institute for Justice.
Linda and Reggie Martin had their savings seized by the FBI from a deposit box in March 2021. Two years later, the agency still won’t explain why it’s holding their money.
Agents raided the Beverly Hills, California branch of US Private Vaults and seized more than $86 million in cash, as well as jewelry and gold, from 1,400 safe-deposit boxes held by hundreds of people who were not suspected of any crimes, according to court documents previously seen by Insider.
The couple were keeping $40,200 cash in their box and only found out about the raid on local news.
“The FBI took my savings nearly two years ago but has never told me why,” Linda Martin said in a press 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 Institute of Injustice, who is representing Martin in a class-action lawsuit, said: “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.”
Months after the raid, the FBI sent forfeiture notices, telling hundreds of box holders, including Martin, that “the government wanted to take their property forever, even though they were not named in the indictment against the company.”
Linda Martin was left “utterly bewildered,” per the press release. Her lawsuit, filed on March 7 and reviewed by Insider, accused the FBI of violating the Fifth Amendment, which requires the government to provide specific factual and legal reasons for forfeiture.
Bob Belden, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, said: “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.”
He 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.”
A lawsuit, filed in May last year on behalf of several US Private Vaults customers, accused the FBI of lying about its intentions with the raid. “Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops into robbers,” said Robert Frommer, another lawyer for the nonprofit.
The complaint stopped the FBI’s forfeiture proceedings against the renters named in the lawsuit. The judge declared that the FBI’s notices were “anemic” and that the agency should notify the renters of “the factual bases for seizure and the specific statutory provision allegedly violated.”
But in September, District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled that federal agents who raided the branch did not violate search and seizure laws.
US Private Vaults shut down following the Beverly Hills raid and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money.
The FBI declined to comment to Insider.