The FBI recently returned a substantial sum of money to a Los Angeles woman who had her life savings seized without explanation during a March 2021 raid on a safe deposit box company.
Linda Martin had saved just over $40,000 to buy a house, and she was keeping the money in a safe deposit box at Beverly Hills-based U.S. Private Vaults, which was facing legal troubles related to money laundering. However, during a raid on the business, the FBI confiscated approximately $86 million in cash and property from 1,400 customers’ safe deposit boxes, Fox News reported.
The FBI’s actions came under scrutiny as Martin was never charged with any crime, raising concerns about civil asset forfeiture procedures. After more than two years, Martin got her money back in July, one month after she filed a class action lawsuit with the Institute for Justice (IJ).
“The FBI had no idea who Linda was, yet it tried to forfeit her life savings simply because her safe deposit box contained more than $5,000,” said Rob Frommer, a senior attorney with IJ, per a news release.
An asset forfeiture policy manual published by the Department of Justice (DOJ) states that such seizures are meant to “punish and deter criminal activity by depriving criminals of property used in or acquired through illegal activities.”
However, IJ suggested that FBI agents involved in the raid were seeking to seize more than the ill-gotten gains held at U.S. Private Vaults.
“The warrant explicitly directed agents not to conduct a criminal search or seizure of individual customers’ boxes,” the news release reads. “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.”
IJ claimed that the FBI has gotten more than $1 billion of the $8 billion DOJ agencies seized via asset forfeitures between 2017 and 2021, according to Fox News.