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United States v. Sanchez

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 3, 2016





The property at issue, a 1996 Acura Legend, was administratively seized by the government in May 2000 as part of a drug trafficking case against the petitioner, her common-law husband, Freddie Martinez, and nine other defendants. The pro se petitioner, Claudia Sanchez, has moved for the return of her automobile pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g), claiming that she was entitled to an “innocent owner” defense. Sanchez also alleges that the government failed to provide proper notice of the forfeiture and failed to prove a substantial nexus between the vehicle and the criminal activity.[1] Sanchez filed her motion after the statutory time limitation for civil claims against the government. The petitioner claims, however, that notice was inadequate. After review of the record, this Court DENIES the petitioner’s motion and renewed motion. (Docket Nos. 443, 489).


The government indicted eleven defendants, including Sanchez, on May 17, 2000, and seized the vehicle the following day while executing a valid search warrant pursuant to the criminal indictment. At the time of her arrest, the petitioner lived with Freddie Martinez, her common-law husband, at 136 Brookline Street, Lynn, Massachusetts. Based upon old records, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believed that a non-defendant, Elizabeth Ferrer, was the owner of the vehicle. After determining that the DEA had sufficient grounds to pursue an administrative forfeiture, the DEA’s Acting Forfeiture Counsel began sending out notices to people with potential property interests in the vehicle. The forfeiture procedures are detailed in an affidavit submitted by the DEA’s Acting Forfeiture Counsel.

On July 7, 2000, the DEA sent written notice via certified mail to Freddie Martinez at his home (shared by Sanchez) and at the Plymouth County House of Corrections, where he was being held. The DEA also sent notices to Martinez’s attorney and to the vehicle’s former owner, Elizabeth Ferrer. In her initial motion, Sanchez states that “she had a family member post the required bond of $1, 407.50 to ensure due process.” Docket No. 444 at 4.[2] The DEA then published the forfeiture notice in the Wall Street Journal once per week for three consecutive weeks from July 24 to August 7, 2000.

After sending out the initial notices, the DEA learned that Sanchez was the actual owner of the vehicle. On August 29, 2000, the DEA sent forfeiture notices to Sanchez via certified mail to her last-known address-126 Brookline Street, Lynn, Massachusetts-and to MCI Framingham, the prison where Sanchez had been held following her arrest. Sanchez states that she had already been released by the time the notice was sent to the prison and that she was no longer living at her last-known address. Additionally, the DEA sent written notice to her attorney of record, Elizabeth Lunt, who was representing Sanchez in the underlying criminal case. All of these notices stated the statutory requirements for contesting this forfeiture and the applicable deadlines.

On January 5, 2001, the DEA forfeited the vehicle as there had been no properly executed claim on the property. On September 6, 2001, the government dismissed the criminal indictment against Sanchez. On September 24, 2007, while the case was still assigned to Judge Gertner, Sanchez filed her motion for return of property. It was never ruled on and was reassigned to this Court after Judge Gertner’s retirement. On March 11, 2013, the plaintiff asked this Court to renew her motion for return of property.


“Where criminal proceedings against the movant have already been completed, a district court should treat a rule 41(e) motion as a civil complaint.” United States v. Giraldo, 45 F.3d 509, 511 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Onwubiko v. United States, 969 F.2d 1392, 1397 (2d Cir. 1992)).[3] Therefore, this Court will treat Sanchez’s motion as a civil complaint against the government.

I. Statute of Limitations

The petitioner claims that she never received notice of the forfeiture and should not be held to the statute of limitations. The government argues that the petitioner admitted to actual knowledge of the forfeiture in her original motion, and that her claim is time-barred by the five-year statute of limitations under 18 U.S.C. § 983.

“In April 2000, Congress enacted the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (“CAFRA”), Pub. L. No. 106-185, 114 Stat. 202, codified in part at 18 U.S.C. § 983, which overhauled procedures for most federal civil and nonjudicial forfeiture actions initiated after August 23, 2000.” Mesa Valderrama v. United States, 417 F.3d 1189, 1195 (11th Cir. 2005). In the context of a judicial forfeiture, the First Circuit noted that the forfeiture “commenced when the government filed a complaint of forfeiture.” Upshaw v. U.S. Customs Serv., U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, 153 F.Supp.2d 46, 49 (D. Mass. 2001) (citing United States v. Real Prop. Located at 221 Dana Ave., Hyde Park, MA, 239 F.3d 78, 82 n.3 (1st Cir. 2001)). However, in the context of an administrative or nonjudicial forfeiture, the “legislative history indicates that ‘for purposes of the effective date provision, the date on which a forfeiture proceeding is commenced is the date on which the first administrative notice of forfeiture relating to the seized property is sent.’” United States v. Contents of Two Shipping Containers Seized at Elizabeth, New Jersey, 113 F. App’x 460, 463 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting 146 Cong. Rec. H2040, H2051 (daily ed. Apr. 11, 2000) (statement of Rep. Hyde)).

Under CAFRA, a motion seeking to set aside forfeiture “may be filed no later than 5 years after the date of final publication of notice of seizure of property.” 18 U.S.C. § 983(e)(3). However, any “challenges to the adequacy of notice in administrative forfeiture proceedings begun before August 23, 2000” are subject to a six-year statute of limitations. United States v. Sims, 376 F.3d 705, 707 (7th Cir. 2005) (emphasis added). For the six-year statute of limitations, “[t]he period will run from the conclusion of the criminal proceedings or civil forfeiture proceedings.” Id. at 709. The statute “can be tolled if the defendant is unable despite diligent inquiry to file his claim on time.” Id. Where, as here, ‚Äúthere has been a related criminal proceeding but no civil forfeiture proceeding, the cause of action accrues at the end of ...

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