As we reported earlier this year, several federal law enforcement agencies and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department became the subject of a federal lawsuit after they were caught pulling over vehicles from an armored car company and robbing them of their cash. The stops were completely baseless as no crime had been committed and the cash inside the armored cars was from legal businesses — essentially making it literal highway robbery.
According to the lawsuit, Empyreal Logistics, an armored car and fintech company that operates nationwide, demanded a stop to the seizures as they have no basis under state or federal law and violated Empyreal’s constitutional rights. They were represented by the Institute for Justice and they have won!
The U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to return 100% of the funds seized—approximately $1.1 million.
“Civil forfeiture enabled law enforcement to seize over a million dollars in legal business proceeds and threaten to keep it. Returning this money is the right thing to do and we’re pleased to have helped Empyreal secure this outcome,” said Dan Alban, a senior attorney for the Virginia-based Institute for Justice.
As a result of the settlement, Empyreal Logistics has agreed to drop its federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration
“This is nothing but highway robbery using badges,” said Alban. “Empyreal is transporting proceeds from legal businesses to financial institutions. These seizures don’t stop crime or improve public safety; they just enrich these agencies, which get to split the proceeds from civil forfeiture. These funds are only being seized because of that profit incentive. And that’s not remotely legal or constitutional.”
According to IJ:
On five separate occasions since May 2021, local law enforcement officers stopped Empyreal vehicles on highways. During three of these stops, officers seized the bank deposits the vehicles were transporting. Sheriffs’ offices in California and Kansas then transferred the funds to federal law enforcement to take advantage of lax federal civil forfeiture practices. If successfully forfeited, up to 80% of the proceeds taken through the federal “equitable sharing” program would then return to local law enforcement to spend as it pleases.
Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to take property without convicting, and often without even charging, anyone with a crime. No federal or state criminal charges have been filed against Empyreal, its employees or its clients. Unlike in a criminal proceeding, prosecutors do not need to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to keep property forever.
According to the lawsuit, in only a matter of weeks, these road pirates have hit the armored car company three times, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars.