Government Seizes Vehicles Worth $1 Million; Brings No Charges, Keeps The Cars

from the where-'due-process'-is-commonly-abbreviated-as-'GFY' dept

Asset forfeiture: drop the charges, keep the property. I guess the person behind Saeki Co., Ltd. should feel appreciative he actually was graced with charges, rather than just had his purchased vehicles seized and spirited away with a mumbled explanation and some dodgy paperwork.

Saeki Co. bought several luxury vehicles from a place called Texas Motors (which, oddly enough, is located in Florida) with the intent to sell them for a significant markup to wealthy Japanese citizens. This is possibly illegal, but not because of any explicit export ban. The only reason it verges on illegal is because resellers like Saeki ever-so-lightly tread on the toes of major manufacturers and their authorized dealers who do the same thing.

The true legality of the situation is undetermined. The feds behind the first seizures of soon-to-be-exported vehicles didn’t seem to have a firm grasp on the matter. They certainly felt it was illegal, and this feeling resulted in plenty of seizures, but these agencies didn’t have any crystal-clear guidance on the matter.

The crackdown was driven largely by agents with the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, who questioned whether these small export companies were violating federal law by using straw buyers — people paid small sums to buy cars — to conceal that the vehicles were being bought by people who had no intention of keeping them and were using cash from other people to make the acquisitions. Federal authorities have argued that using straw buyers is a deceptive practice that potentially deprives American consumers of a chance to buy the luxury cars and limits the ability of automakers to keep tight control over sales to domestic dealers and to foreign countries.

It’s not so much the American public losing a few opportunities to buy a luxury vehicle as it is the other thing: tight control of sales. The American public can’t get many laws written in its favor, but large industries certainly can. This initial thrust led to lots and lots of partnerships with local law enforcement agencies conveniently located near shipping docks. And this led to lots and lots of luxury vehicles ending up in the hands of law enforcement.

Then, the government stopped the crackdown. It claimed to be making an effort to more tightly focus its forfeiture efforts as a result of Eric Holder’s reform initiative. The appearance of being an errand boy for corporate interests certainly didn’t help. Cases were dropped and charges dismissed. But the vehicles remained in the government’s hands.

One person in Saeki Co.’s position spent two years fighting for the return of a seized vehicle and $125,000 in cash. This followed about a dozen similar settlements, most occuring after a legal battle with the agency(ies) holding the vehicles. In other cases, the prevailing parties still have yet to be fully recompensed. And others are still being prosecuted for violating a law the federal government isn’t entirely clear on and has lost an interest in enforcing.

Saeki Co.’s story is the worst of the potential situations. It had eight vehicles worth nearly $900,000 seized at the Long Beach Seaport by customs agents. This happened January 3, 2013. Two months later, customs agents seized another of its vehicles (worth over $100,000) in Seattle. Two-and-a-half years later, the feds have abandoned everything about the case but Saeki’s vehicles. And it simply doesn’t want to talk about the seized property.

Despite the Government’s change in policy, Plaintiff has not received administrative relief from CBP nor any communication from the Government justifying its seizure of Plaintiff’s vehicles.

Other than the fact that it won’t be bringing criminal charges.

In or about early 2014, Assistant United States Attorney David Lazarus advised Plaintiff’s counsel that the federal grand jury investigation undertaken in the Middle District of Florida had concluded without any criminal charge lodged against Plaintiff or any of its agents.

So, no criminal activity but the government still wants to keep the cars — which were seized under a vague “felony interference of a business model” law.

Plaintiff’s vehicles were seized by CBP not because of any wrongdoing by Plaintiff, but because of an ill-conceived program by the Government to support a vehicle export monopoly at the expense of the Constitutional rights of Plaintiff and other vehicle exporters.

As the complaint points out, the government’s unwillingness to respond to the plaintiff is swiftly rendering the vehicles worthless. Overseas purchasers willing to pay above US domestic retail for luxury vehicles are most likely going to want this year’s model, not something that’s been sitting around a government warehouse for almost three years. (And that’s not taking into consideration the possibility the vehicles may have racked up miles as government agents’ “work vehicles” or the occasional “drive it like you seized it” joyride.)

Then there’s the simple fact that a newly-purchased vehicle starts leaking resale value the instant a purchaser drives it off the lot.

Using the generally accepted average vehicle depreciation rate of 20% in the first model year and 15% in subsequent years, the value of Plaintiff’s property has decreased in value by approximately $375,891.00 since their seizure. This measure increases every day that the Government fails to return the seized vehicles to Plaintiff.

Much of the filing details “conversations” with the government about the return of the vehicles, most of which went something like this.

SAEKI CO.: So, there’s no criminal charges? This means we can have our cars back, right?
GOV’T:

The lawsuit repeatedly makes claims about Saeki Co. being deprived of due process. Which it has been. But civil asset forfeiture isn’t about due process. These statutes provide — from the very start — a way for the government to bypass the protections due process affords to citizens. The cases themselves indicate that clearly. It’s not the government versus any named individual or company. It’s the government against the seized property itself, which cannot advocate in its own defense and can only be spoken for if the government grants the request.

So, while the company is absolutely right about being deprived of this right, in terms of asset forfeiture, this right simply does not exist. This lawsuit may force a response from the government, but it’s a step it doesn’t consider to be “appropriate” in terms of disputing seizures.

What Saeki does have going for it is the government’s ambivalence towards the “law” it claimed Saeki broke. If nothing else, a judge will be asking the government a few tough questions about how its ongoing non-prosecution has managed to tie up not-guilty vehicles for the better part of three years. Given the racket that asset forfeiture is, that’s about the best that can be hoped for.

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Companies: saeki co., texas motors

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Comments on “Government Seizes Vehicles Worth $1 Million; Brings No Charges, Keeps The Cars”

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41 Comments
TheResidentSkeptic says:

Not correct.

There is nothing “CIVIL” about asset forfeiture.

It is just plain theft. Call it what you want –

Theft by Thugs; Robbery at Badge Point; or any other fancy terms – but it is still the taking without real justification or compensation and needs to be shut down.

Shame us poor citizens don’t have anyone representing us or our needs in our government.

Stephen May (profile) says:

Re: Agree 100%

A very sad state of affairs in the United States when a government can simply steal your property in violation of that nostalgic but now defunct Constitution.

Remember when Americans made fun of Russia and Nazi Germany and other countries whose government officials just stole whatever they wanted from citizens? What about the old-fashioned “tax” collectors who took the tax and whatever else they wanted?

The U.S. — and all states — are just as bad.

We don’t live in the country falsely taught about in schools.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Done.

Rarely are charges filed against people who lie to Congress either, unless they are against a personage of the opposite party.

How to fix:
Get rid of political parties.
Remove money from politics and elections. The two ARE different if one has been paying attention.
Replace all bureacrats with unencumbered drones (might take a while).

The above will take at least six years, Six years we can hardly afford.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Naturally

Well of course they didn’t file any charges, “In possession of nice car in the presence of an officer who wanted it” probably wouldn’t look too good on a warrant, and I’m almost positive that’s not actually a crime on the books(yet).

Mind, I’m sure the judge would still rubber-stamp the warrant, they’re pretty spineless when it comes to anything the police want, but if it went public it wouldn’t look too good, and neither police nor judges want that.

Pyrosf (profile) says:

How?

How does this pass the right to due process, barring that the right to just compensation.

I’ve seen tons of court cases say that based on the law this passes due process. Can we start attacking the law on 5th amendment grounds that the government took property with out paying for it?

“…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Any use by the government (other then perhaps storage awaiting due process) should qualify. Heck, its super easy and even better as you don’t have to prove anything but “The government took something of mine, the government has never compensated me for this”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Can someone point out for me the part in the US Constitution that covers asset forfeiture?

Something tells me the same logic (spurious or otherwise) that is being used to deny American citizens property and and will be used to deny them life and liberty as well.

Not that this hasn’t happened with the Extrajudicial Detention and Interrogation program, but at least we recognize that was outside any implementation of justice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Prove's the point

“When corporations paid for politicians.”
Well… you might want to check how black people(at the time slaves) got their rights and became people. Then check how many corps applied for the same thing in this year.

To make it short. More corps than black ex slaves applied for the right to be a person in that year.

denialisbliss says:

This sort of asset procurement is not the worst kind. The real scale and scope of these seizures will chill your spine. As the nation and the govt become more broke every day, incidents like this will happen more frequently.

In a way, poor people with no “seizable” assets are the luck ones. When’s the last time you heard of some homeless’ shopping carts emptied of their contents by “govt” people?

John says:

Doesn’t the US Constitution prohibit the seizure of property by the government, unless a conviction has occurred?

I (not a US person) was under the impression that this was made part of US law because the British Crown was in the habit of confiscating the assets of the colonists. This, alongside the other amendments such as the right to bear arms, and to have free speech, were a reaction to elements of British repression.

So, how come this hasn’t been challenged constitutionally in the courts?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The “It can’t happen here” belief has blinded most people to the reality of the situation. It is happening but most refuse to look up and see the world as it is and instead keep staring at the ground safe in their naïve belief their country is safe and will protect them without them having to do anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, while the company is absolutely right about being deprived of this right, in terms of asset forfeiture, this right simply does not exist. This lawsuit may force a response from the government, but it’s a step it doesn’t consider to be “appropriate” in terms of disputing seizures.

In practice maybe, but in reality, the right plainly exists right in the fifth amendment, and no law constitutionally can abridge the right.
Just because a right is continually violated, does not mean it doesn’t exist…just further reinforces the indignity of the rights violation that occurs.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Federal authorities have argued that using straw buyers is a deceptive practice that … limits the ability of automakers to keep tight control over sales to domestic dealers and to foreign countries.

Waitwaitwait… didn’t the Supreme Court rule in the Kirtsaeng case, a couple years ago, that no such anti-arbitrage right exists? Or does that only apply to publishers?

Ken Riel (profile) says:

'The' Government is OUR Government

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, referring to OUR government as ‘the government’ should be considered both grammatically and politically incorrect.

This is an obvious truth that shouldn’t be hard for anyone to grasp at all. The way it is phrased here is like referring to your own mother as ‘the mother’, not only is this impolite, it’s also kind of stupid.

If we can’t get a grip on this we’ll likely never be able to correct the injustices you guys work so hard to expose.

Melissa (profile) says:

Government is allowing the same thing in animal rescues

Now that retail rescue from south to north has learned to control the internet and it is the Government that is allowing it to take over all animal shelters in the south!Also especially where I live in Tn, where the animal rescue corps has set up its Base location? They can go and raid someone of thousands of expensive pure breeds to sell the retail rescues! The governer of Tn has been letting this happen for yrs in his home town of Knoxville, Tn, where most of his staff came from, a news story was released recently on this issue, and after 817 share it was erased from internet!!! Channel 4 in Nashville infact!

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