As reported by Reason Magazine, the bureau took the money from Carl Nelson and Amy Sterner Nelson in May 2020, forcing them to sell their comfy home in West Seattle, their vehicles, and liquidate their retirement funds before moving the family of six into Amy's sister's basement.
"We went from living a life where we were both working full-time to provide for our four daughters to really figuring out how we were going to make it month to month," Amy told Reason's Billy Binion. "It's completely changed my belief in fairness."
The bureau took funds from nearly every corner of the Nelsons' world, including, for instance, the savings Amy racked up from her decade as a practicing attorney and her later efforts as head of The Riveter, the co-working start-up she founded. But the FBI never even suspected Amy of committing any crime. It was Carl they were investigating—a probe that has not resulted in a single charge against him almost two years later.
In April 2020, agents showed up at the Nelsons' home and informed them that Carl—a former real estate transaction manager for Amazon—was under investigation for allegedly depriving the tech behemoth of his "honest services." In plainer terms, they accused him of showing favor to certain developers and securing them deals in exchange for illegal kickbacks.
"That never happened and is exactly why I've fought as long and hard as I have," Carl Nelson said. "It's that simple."
It's not clear if the FBI has come to the same conclusion, notes Binion, because, despite a years-long investigation, the bureau has not filed charges and there has been no indictment by the Justice Department.
But that said, nothing as important as actually charging Nelson with a crime was necessary for the bureau to literally steal the family blind, which cost them their home, their savings, their livelihoods and their daughters' places in their Seattle school, as well as their future security, which is outrageous.
"Perhaps more vexing: The FBI has, in some sense, subtly conceded that it didn't need to do any of the above to complete their investigation or to hamstring any supposed criminal operation run by Carl," Binion noted further. "Last week, the government agreed to a settlement: Of the original approximately $892,000 it seized, it will return $525,000, while Amy and Carl forfeit about $109,000. (The remaining sum has been depleted by court fees.)"
"It's hard," Amy, who is trying to regain some of the family's lost assets via a GoFundMe, noted. "Not much has changed for us."
She went on to say that her husband is still a defendant in a massive federal lawsuit filed against Amazon, and they accepted the government's pathetic deal so they could pay attorney's fees. Amy also added that "it feels like the beginning of some justice," though they are going to be out hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is anything but fair considering there were never any charges.
Binion goes on to point out that what has happened to the Nelsons is far from rare:
There was the Indiana man whose car was seized. And the Kentucky man whose car was seized. And the Massachusetts woman whose car was seized. And the Louisiana man whose life savings were seized. And the Texas man whose life savings were seized. And the countless Californians whose money and random personal possessions were seized. Sometimes the money is returned—often only when a defendant manages to lawyer up for a civil suit. Sometimes only part of it is. Sometimes none of it is.
"The vast majority of seizures and forfeitures…are driven by the profit incentive," says Dan Alban, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a legal group that litigates such cases. "In most states and at the federal level, police and prosecutors get to keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds. So they just have a very strong incentive to go out and seize whatever they can and try to forfeit it so that they can supplement their budget."
Our founders literally rebelled against a tyrannical government that confiscated property and livelihoods from its people. They would be shocked that Americans permit their government to do so today.