(LibertySociety.com) – The FBI is yet again under scrutiny after two people accused the agency of losing or potentially stealing seized property from their safety deposit boxes. In 2021, the FBI conducted a raid in Beverly Hills, California, on a company called U.S. Private Vaults. Don Mellein and Jeni Pearsons sued the FBI and won, and the agency was ordered to return their property. However, upon receipt, both discovered that some of their items were missing. Both also received a notice from the FBI that said the agency would like to take possession of their property through civil forfeiture.
Mellein had 110 gold coins and cash totaling over $100,000 in his safety deposit box but was only given back the cash. He said that the FBI eventually located and returned 47 of the gold coins but told him that he needed to drop the lawsuit against the agency and file a claim for the other 63. In March, the FBI told Mellein that it had conducted an internal investigation regarding his claim and found no wrongdoing. Pearsons had $20,000 in silver and $2,000 in cash but was only given back the silver. The FBI told her that someone from the U.S. Marshals would be reaching out to her about her property, but she never heard anything from them.
Now the pair has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to sue again to get their property back. They are also looking to force changes when it comes to civil forfeiture, which would allow claimants to pursue agencies if their property winds up missing. Joe Gay, an attorney from the Institute for Justice, is unsure if the items were stolen by agents or if they were careless during the raid on U.S. Private Vaults. He noted that the FBI had originally intended to record the process but opted for doing a paper inventory due to the chaos that ensued during the raid.
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