FBI hit with lawsuit after allegedly losing valuable rare coins during raid

“There’s literally been no explanation,” Pearsons said. “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.”

Published: September 25, 2023 9:47am

Updated: September 25, 2023 9:50am

The nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice has filed two lawsuits on behalf of clients who allege that the FBI failed to return valuable rare coins and other property it took during a March 2021 FBI raid on the Beverly Hills–based U.S. Private Vaults.

“We don’t know for sure how the property disappeared, we just know it disappeared,” Joe Gay, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, said on Friday. “And whether it’s negligence, whether it’s something worse, the government shouldn’t be able to rely on its own shoddy recordkeeping to avoid responsibility for losing their property.”

Don Mellein had sued the government in 2021 to get the coins back, which he estimates are worth hundreds of thousands. So far, only 47 out of 110 have been returned so he decided to sue again.

“The FBI had no reason to go through my box and they were careless in losing my savings,” Mellein said. “For months I was told they didn’t have any of my coins before they eventually found some of them.”

Jeni Pearsons said she had $2,000 worth of cash in a box that was taken during the raid and it has not been returned.

“Could be that the way that the FBI and the law enforcement carried this out is just really sloppy work,” she said. “Or there was never any intention of giving it back, and so it really didn’t matter because they thought they just got to keep everything. So to them, there was one pile.”

Gay said he hopes the latest lawsuits help other victims of civil asset forfeiture. 

"We're basically fighting against the notion that people shouldn’t have a remedy against the government when the government takes their property," he said.

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