A Beverly Hills man has sued the FBI to get his property back after the agency allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gold coins he had stored in a safety deposit box, items he was told they would never return even though he was never charged with any crimes.
The man’s attorney told Fox News that the FBI had raided a California-based safety storage company on suspicion of laundering money for drug dealers, but while in the pursuit of those charges, the bureau also raided the company’s suite of safety deposit boxes, broke into all of them, and confiscated every customer’s property whether they ended up connected to any drug dealers or not.
Worse, these folks were told that the “law enforcement” agency had no intentions of ever giving back their valuables and cited “civil asset forfeiture” rules as their excuse to keep $86 million in cash and other valuables.
This is a rule whereby police agencies, both local and federal, may simply keep all the property and money they seize from suspects. While it has been around for a long time, it really jumped to prominence in the 1980s to bankrupt suspected drug dealers so that they could not use their homes, cars, or cash to fund their legal defense in court, and it has become one of the most abuse rules in policing.
As Illya Somin explained in June, “Asset forfeiture abuse is a serious problem in both the federal law enforcement system and in many states. It often enables law enforcement agencies to seize citizens’ property without convicting them of a crime or even charging them. Then, procedural barriers make it difficult or impossible for the owners to reclaim their assets, even if they are completely innocent.”
But, oh, it gets worse. Not only were the safety deposit boxes in Beverly Hills pilfered by the agents, there was little care taken to document what they took from them, either. And in many cases, the FBI took the money and ran, and flat-out denied they took particular items because they didn’t have any documents showing what items they even found in the boxes.
So, many of these people who lost a small fortune have no idea, and little legal recourse, to get their belongings back. And, again, none of these people were ever charged or even accused of engaging in any crime.
“All we know is that their property was in a box and safe before the FBI broke into the box,” Joe Gay, an attorney with the nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice who is representing one of the victims of the FBI’s sticky fingers, told Fox News.
“Once the FBI broke into the box, we honestly don’t know exactly what happened.”
“We don’t know if they lost it. We don’t know if somebody pocketed it and walked away. We have no way to know,” the attorney added.
The victim, Don Mellein, a retired, 79-year-old government worker, said he had 110 collectible gold coins in his box before the FBI allegedly broke into the company. He said he had the coins stashed there for his retirement. But it all disappeared and the agency told him they had no intention of returning it even though he was never under investigation or charged with anything.
Another customer, Jeni Pearsons, said she lost around $20,000 in silver and $2,000 in cash to the bureau in the same 2017 raid. She and Mellein were just two of some 1,400 customers whose property simply disappeared after the FBI raid.
“There’s literally been no explanation,” Pearsons said of the FBI’s action during and after the raid. “I think you have to assume that it’s the simplest explanation, and I think, unfortunately, the simplest explanation is they took it or lost it.”
“It was very disingenuous and shady even,” Parsons added, blasting the civil asset forfeiture the FBI used to take her money. “It’s the least transparent process. It’s not something that you would do if your intent was to find out who these items belonged to.”
Mellein sued the the corrupt FBI to get his gold coins back and the FBI suddenly “found” 47 of them. But they still maintain they have no idea at all what happened to the other 63 coins.
Then, to add insult to injury, the FBI threatened him to stop pursuing legal action or he’d never see any of the other missing coins.
“The FBI had no reason to go through my box and they were careless in losing my savings,” Mellein said in a press release after he won his first case in 2021. “For months I was told they didn’t have any of my coins before they eventually found some of them.”
“I’m disappointed that I have to sue again in order to get property back that should have been given back to me over two years ago,” he said.
The Institute for Justice noted that these cases are important because as the rules stand today, Americans have no easy recourse to getting their property back after it is seized by law enforcement.
“We’re basically fighting against the notion that people shouldn’t have a remedy against the government when the government takes their property,” the group said.
Mellein said that the whole incident just further undermines the trust Americans have in government.
“When I was growing up, we trusted and respected law enforcement, especially the FBI. I’m not filing this lawsuit just for me, I’m fighting for a better world where people can trust law enforcement to do the right thing. I’m fighting to make law enforcement better,” he lamented.
Civil asset forfeiture has been one of the most abused rules in law enforcement, both on a federal and local level. But Americans deserve their due process and should not be treated as guilty until the FBI doesn’t want to steal their money anymore.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.