DOJ Spending Over $6 Billion in Firms to Seize Innocent Citizens’ Property Via Civil Asset Forfeiture
by Douglas Ankney
According to a September 2023 report from foxnews.com, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is “shelling out more than $6 billion to private companies to manage its asset forfeiture investigations.” When the government merely alleges that money, homes, land, boats, cars, and other property is linked to a crime, the government employs civil asset forfeiture to seize it.
Since the owners of the property are not even charged with a crime, the forfeiture proceedings are civil in nature—meaning the owners must hire private attorneys because there is no constitutional right to an appointed attorney in civil proceedings. Worse yet, asset forfeiture proceedings generally place the burden on the property owners to prove that the property was not used in a crime.
Fifty-eight-year-old Linda Martin is but one victim of this outrageous government scheme. Martin stored her valuables in a safety deposit box with a company known as U.S. Private Vaults. The FBI seized all of the company’s safety deposit boxes when it raided U.S. Private Vaults in 2021—taking every customer’s valuables, including Martin’s. While U.S. Private Vaults later pleaded guilty to money laundering, neither Martin nor any other customer was charged with a crime. Martin told Fox News: “The FBI, they feel like they can get away with anything. I just feel like it’s unfair.” All told, the FBI seized $86 million in cash and tens of millions more in gold, silver, and other valuables from the safety deposit boxes.
The FBI awarded the more than $6 billion in contracts to private companies to assist with identifying assets for seizure, record keeping, and to provide courtroom testimony. “Federal forfeiture is a big business,” said Dan Alban, head of the Institute for Justice’s National Initiative to End Forfeiture (“IJ”). “And it’s particularly big business for the law enforcement agencies that get to spend the money out of these funds.” According to the IJ, the seized property provided revenue of more than $45.6 billion between 2000 and 2019, which was often split between federal and local police agencies to spend, in most cases, in any way they want.
Alban urged Congress to act “to prevent law enforcement from treating ordinary Americans like ATMs.” He added, “if the federal government is spending billions of dollars to do it, that means they’re spending billions of dollars to target someone just like you.”
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