Fighting an ATF Forfeiture
Special Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) might seize and attempt to forfeit property that they suspect is being used in criminal activity. The authority for the seizure of property is provided under the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture authority.
Civil asset forfeiture involves the seizure of property for forfeiture even when no one is arrested for any crime. The property that might be seized for an administrative forfeiture by ATF agents includes:
- money, cash, or U.S. Currency or other monetary instruments;
- firearms, ammunition, or explosives;
- a vehicle, vessel, or other conveyance used to import, transport, or store a controlled substance;
- merchandise the importation of which is prohibited; or
- other property that does not exceed $500,000 in value.
Sometimes the seizure is connected to an ongoing criminal investigation. For instance, ATF recently started seizing “ghost guns” from the end-user. Ghost guns are kits that can be built into a firearm by the end-user without a visit to an FFL. Ghost guns being targeted by ATF might include certain types of Polymer80 kits known as the Buy Build Shoot kit.
After the seizure, ATF agents provide a receipt for the property using ATF Form 3400. The top of the form says “Receipt for Property and Other Items” from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The form lists the ATF’s case/inspection number, the office, the person the property was taken from, the location of the transfer or seizure, a description of the items seized, and the basis for the transfer or seizure of items.
The only way to contest the forfeiture of property seized by the ATF is to file a verified claim for court action (sometimes called “early judicial action.”) If you fail to file the claim by the deadline in the notice, then the seized property will be forfeited to the United States.
DO NOT file a petition for remission, a petition for mitigation, or an offer in compromise, until AFTER you speak with an attorney because those actions rarely result in all of the property being returned. Read more about the problems with petitions for remission or mitigation.
The ATF’s Asset Forfeiture & Seized Property Division handles the seizure of money and other property allegedly used by criminals to support their illegal activities up until a claim is filed demanding early judicial intervention which shifts the case to an Assistant United States Attorney.
Within 90 days after the verified claim is filed, the AUSA must then either file a forfeiture case in federal court or immediately return the property. For this reason, we file the claims quickly after the seizure in order to start the 90 day deadline.
Attorneys for ATF Forfeiture Claims in Florida
You have the right to have an attorney represent you at all stages of the forfeiture action. Attorneys often work on a contingency basis meaning that you do not pay any attorney fees or cost unless they get your property back.
When your attorney files the claim demanding the return of the property, it immediately stops administrative forfeiture proceeding with the ATF. The ATF, as the seizing agency, must then forward the claim to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for further proceedings.
If the ATF or another federal agency seized your money, vehicle, or other property, then contact a federal asset forfeiture attorney in Tampa, FL, at Sammis Law Firm. Our main office is located in downtown Tampa, a block away from the federal courthouse.
We can explain why filing for mitigation or remission is not the best way to proceed. Find out why the best way to get the money back quickly is to file a claim for court action in order to trigger the 90-day deadline which might speed up the release of the property.
In most cases, the verified claim must be submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Forfeiture Counsel, Asset Forfeiture & Seized Property Division, 99 New York Avenue., NE, AFSPD Room (3.N.600), Washington, DC 20226.
The rules to contest the illegality of the initial seizure and the forfeiture action vary from case to case, so contact us for more information.
Problems with Seeking Remission or Mitigation
Under certain circumstances, ATF has the authority to seize and forfeit property including U.S. currency, conveyances, firearms, ammunition, explosives, alcohol, tobacco, or even real property.
If your property is seized by an ATF agent for civil asset forfeiture, then you might be encouraged to seek remission or mitigation. For those administrative procedures, ATF gets to decide what happens to your property. In essence, you are consenting to the legality of the administrative forfeiture making it far less likely that any of your property will be returned.
The authority to grant remission or mitigation in administrative forfeiture cases is given to the federal agency that seized the property. The ruling official in judicial forfeiture cases is the Chief, Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, Criminal Division, Department of Justice. See 28 C.F.R. § 9.1.
Although the ATF might encourage you to seek remission or mitigation, those options have historically been a waste of time. Instead, you should retain an attorney to gather all of the evidence and then quickly file a claim demanding early judicial action or the immediate return of the property.
The claim must be filed with the agency that gave notice of the seizure and intent to forfeit. So if the ATF seized your money, vehicle, or other property, then your attorney will file the claim directly with the ATF.
You do not have to wait for the notice to arrive before demanding early judicial intervention through a verified claim. In some cases, we file a verified claim the next day after the seizure so that no time is lost.
If you do wait for the notice to arrive, be sure you do not miss the deadline. The claim must be RECEIVED by the due date. If you are one day late, the ATF will take the position that no relief will be granted.
Where to Send the ATF Forfeiture Claim
Your attorney can help you determine how to deliver the claim so that it is received ahead of the deadline. If you send it, but it isn’t actually received in time, then the claim will be automatically denied.
The claim should be sent to the notifying agency’s address listed on the notice by certified mail with return receipt request with the U.S. Postal Service, or by using a Commercial Delivery Service (or both).
If no address is provided in the notice or if you send the claim before the notice is received, then your attorney will find the appropriate address where the claim should be sent to the agency that seized the property. Your attorney might also send the claim to the following address by certified mail return receipt requested:
Associate Chief Counsel
Office of Chief Counsel
99 New York Avenue, NE
Mail Stop 3N 600
Washington, DC 20226
Time Limits for Filing a Claim with the ATF
To contest the ATF forfeiture, the claim must be filed by the deadline date identified in the notice. See 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(2).
A claim is deemed filed on the date it is received by the agency if mailed with the U.S. Postal Service or if sent by Commercial Delivery Service. For this reason, make sure it is actually received by the agency and that you have proof that it was received by the deadline.
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(2)(C) and 28 U.S.C. § 1746, the requirements to contest the ATF forfeiture include:
- being in writing;
- describing the seized property;
- stating your ownership or other interest in the property; and
- being made under oath, subject to a penalty of perjury.
Although the claim need not be made in any particular form, a claim form is available in PDF format as required by 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(2)(D).
Providing Supporting Evidence with the ATF Claim
Federal law does not require you to submit any evidence with your claim contesting the forfeiture. In some cases, however, your attorney might suggest that you provide supporting evidence related to your claim.
That evidence might include title paperwork or bank records showing your interest in the seized property.
In order to discourage claims, federal law provides that if you intentionally file a frivolous claim you may be subject to a civil fine. See 18 U.S.C. § 983(h). If you intentionally submit a claim containing false information, you may be subject to prosecution. See 18 U.S.C. § 1001.
ATF’s Role in the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Program
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) enforces the federal laws and regulations relating to alcohol, tobacco, firearms, explosives, and arson. ATF agents work in cooperation with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Under limited circumstances, ATF has the authority to seize and forfeit firearms, ammunition, explosives, alcohol, tobacco, currency, conveyances, and certain real property involved in a violation of the law.
ATF’s Administrative Forfeiture Process
An administrative forfeiture by the ATF is an in rem action that permits the ATF to forfeit the property without judicial involvement. The authority for the ATF to start an administrative forfeiture action is found in the Tariff Act of 1930, 19 U.S.C. § 1607.
ATF Asset Forfeiture – Visit the website of the ATF Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to learn more about the procedures used for seizure and forfeiture. Find information on the ATF’s authority to seize property and why filing a claim demanding judicial intervention STOPS the administrative forfeiture. Find information on unclaimed property held by ATF’s Asset Forfeiture & Seized Property Division.
How the ATF Official Notification is Posted – Search the ATF legal notice published each week online on the www.forfeiture.gov website. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) gives notice that the property listed on the official notification was seized for federal forfeiture for violation of federal law. The public can find the rules, procedures, and laws that apply to the forfeiture process listed on the website or in 19 U.S.C. Sections 1602 – 1619, 18 U.S.C. Section 983, and 28 C.F.R. Parts 8 and 9.
This article was last updated on Friday, December 11, 2020.