A Chinese-American restaurateur wished to purchase a second restaurant. For reasons that are not known but do not matter either, he decided to keep the down payment of $75,000 in cash at his place of business. A federal agency found it during a routine inspection and decided that such an amount in cash had to be nefarious. The Feds seized the money.
See, the government can do that. Its suspicion, reasonable or not, is enough. It does not need a conviction, or even the kind of probable cause it must have for an indictment.
The good news is that the entrepreneur got his money back with the help of a good lawyer. The bad news is that it took so long that the restaurant he wanted to buy went to someone else. That is because, once a seizure occurs, it takes a civil action – a lawsuit of its own – to show that your money is clean.
The dance between the state and the owner is a story of steps forward, steps back, and steps sideways. The seizing agency files a Notice; the owner files a Claim; the agency files a Complaint against the property; the owner files an Answer. And so it goes for weeks and months. In the end, the Government must still prove that the property is tainted, that it is subject to lawful forfeiture. But that is sometimes small comfort against the time and treasure it takes to recover it.
In any event, whether the seizure came in the context of an administrative or criminal matter, the fight over the property happens in civil court. Choose the right civil litigator to fight for you.
The Restaurateur’s story was first reported in the Washington Post in 2014 and was recently picked up by the Federal Lawyer Magazine. We are thankful for their reporting.