Lawsuit: Cannabis Cash Illegally Seized by FBI and California Sheriffs

An armored car company in California filed a lawsuit against the FBI and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department, alleging they illegally seized cash the company was transporting for state-licensed cannabis companies.

Full story after the jump.

A lawsuit by an armored car company accuses the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department of illegally seizing cash it was transporting for licensed cannabis companies in California, the Los Angeles Times reports. Empyreal Logistics alleges the sheriff’s department seized more than $1.1 million in cash over two stops and the FBI is trying to confiscate the cash, claiming it is tied to federal drug or money laundering crimes, but the agency has specified no unlawful conduct and hasn’t charged anyone with a crime.

Dan Alban, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a group that fights forfeiture excesses in the U.S. and is representing Empyreal in its lawsuit, called the case “among the more egregious” the organization has ever seen adding that the seizures are a “very cynical attempt to exploit the differences between federal and state law.”

During the first stop on a Mojave Desert freeway in November, the driver of an armored car was carrying $712,000 in cash from licensed cannabis companies when San Bernadino Sheriff’s deputies pulled him over, interrogated him, seized the cash, and turned it over to the FBI. A few weeks later, the same department stopped the same driver in Rancho Cucamonga and seized another $350,000 that was being transported for state-approved cannabusinesses.

Empyreal contends that it follows policies outlined by the U.S. Treasury Department and that the cash it transports comes from businesses that are in good standing under California law. California’s law also includes protections for banks serving licensed cannabis industry operators.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus argues that more than 80% of cannabis sold in the state is cultivated illegally but did not provide evidence that the cash was linked to any illegal operations.

“My deputies are professional, and I am confident we will prevail,” Dicus told the Times.

Video footage from the van captured the deputies counting the cash from the $350,000 seizure and voicing disappointment that it wasn’t more.

In the lawsuit, Empyreal describes the stops as “highway robberies” by government agents seeking to bolster their budgets with forfeiture cash.

The case is in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California.

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