UPDATE: Federal Court Shuts Down DOJ's Use Of Civil Asset Forfeiture To Take 85 Million Dollars From Private Safes Without Charging Anyone Of A Crime

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Late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner issued a temporary restraining order blocking the government from seizing the contents of some safe deposit boxes confiscated by the FBI's raid on Beverly Hills business U.S. Private Vaults through civil forfeiture. Jeni Pearsons and her husband, Michael Storc, joined forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to oppose the unconstitutional seizure and the FBI's effort to seize their money and possessions indefinitely.

In May, the FBI delivered a 19-page forfeiture notice to U.S. Private Vaults' attorneys, notifying them that the FBI was intending to seize the contents of hundreds of safe deposit boxes, including over $85 million in cash and millions more in precious metals, jewelry, and other valuables. Moreover, many of the individual box holders received similar notification letters from the FBI.

Judge Klausner’s order finds that due process was violated when those notices were sent, explaining: "This notice, put bluntly, provides no factual basis for the seizure of Plaintiffs’ property whatsoever."

Through the Unconstitutional act of civil asset forfeiture, the Department of Justice (DOJ) attempted to permanently seize the contents of hundreds of safe deposit boxes, including over $85 million in cash, precious metals, jewelry, and other valuables worth millions more. The owners of the boxes, however, have not been charged with any crime and have not been notified of what the government thinks they did wrong. Now,  Several of those owners have joined an existing class action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ) to stop the government's forfeiture plans.

Jeni Pearsons is the Director of Operations for a prestigious Los Angeles charity. Jeni and her husband, Michael Storc, rented a box to keep silver they purchased as a retirement nest fund. Now, the government is attempting to permanently seize Jeni and Michael's silver through civil asset forfeiture, without notifying either of them what the government thinks they have done to deserve such punishment.

"When we contacted the FBI they told us we just had to wait. But now we’re told the government wants to take our property forever. And why? It’s surreal," Pearsons told IJ.

Civil forfeiture is a government mechanism that helps the government seize personal property permanently without charging anyone with a crime. The government has charged (or even alleged) a crime against U.S. Private Vaults the corporation, but it has not charged (or even alleged) a crime against any of the individual box holders. Nonetheless, the FBI pushed through with its plan to permanently seize the property of over 400 box holders. Multiple legal scholars and Constitutional experts have decried the process as a violation of the Constitution.

The order imposed on Tuesday suspends the forfeiture actions for the four box holders identified as plaintiffs in IJ's lawsuit. It prohibits the government from forfeiting Jeni, Michael, Joseph, and Travis' property without first providing them with “forfeiture notices that identify the specific factual and legal basis for the Government’s determination to commence civil forfeiture proceedings.”

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