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There are numerous companies that ship valuables securely in armored vehicles, and it’s not unusual to see them on city streets or highways. But in San Bernardino county, one company recently had its cars pulled over three times in the span of a few weeks.
None of the stops even led to a traffic ticket, let alone an arrest. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) nevertheless seized more than $1 million from those shipments — without even charging a crime. And there is no indication those funds will be returned.
Under the current laws governing asset forfeiture, this happens surprisingly often.
The unusual aspect of this case is the business that’s involved.
What makes these stops and seizures noteworthy is that the vehicles involved were carrying funds earned from medical cannabis sales that are legal under state law.
It’s against federal law for the FBI to use taxpayer money in ways that interfere with medical cannabis activities that comply with state law, even though marijuana remains a controlled substance at a national level. This situation is inherently complex and confusing, and Americans for Prosperity is working to get Congress to update these laws.
In the meantime, the FBI is holding $1 million in revenue that was legally gained, and the only rationale being offered is a vague allegation that it is related to “money laundering.”
In asset forfeiture cases like this, the federal government sometimes holds onto these assets without ever securing a conviction — or even bringing charges. A significant portion of the funds typically go to the local police department that made the stop. In cases like this where local police work with the federal government, up to 80 percent of the profits can go back to local law enforcement.
That almost happened in the case of U.S. Private Vaults, a Beverly Hills business that the FBI shut down last year. The Bureau seized the assets of hundreds of people who stored valuables there but charged them with no crime. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of the owners ultimately forced the Bureau to return their property.
But often the people whose property is seized lack the resources to defend their rights in court. They may end up not even contesting the seizure and the government gets to keep the property by default.
Civil asset forfeiture creates a rare situation in which people are not considered innocent until they are proven guilty.
Law enforcement is permitted to seize assets that they believe have been used in illegal activities, without waiting for a conviction.
In fact, as we have seen, assets may be confiscated without a crime ever being alleged. The list of victims includes people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Americans for Prosperity is working to encourage reform of civil asset forfeiture laws, both at the federal level and in the states. In 2021, our teams were involved in successful efforts to reform this constitutionally questionable practice in Arizona, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Utah. Our teams are already working hard to replicate these successes in many other states during 2022.
Show your support for efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture laws to ensure innocent people are allowed to retain possession of their private property.