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Benjamin v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 30, 2016

LEONARD BENJAMIN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is Leonard Benjamin's ("Benjamin") Complaint (styled a "Motion for the Retrieval of Unforfeited Personal Property Pursuant to Title 18 U.S.C. Section 983") requesting to set aside an administrative forfeiture. (ECF 1). The Government filed a Response (ECF 6) to which Benjamin filed a Reply. (ECF 10).

         The matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition. This Court finds a hearing is unnecessary to resolve the issues. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons to follow, Benjamin's Motion (ECF 1) will be DENIED AND DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         Benjamin seeks to set aside the administrative forfeiture of jewelry seized from his house incident to his arrest in Bowie, Maryland on February 7, 2014, by the Drug Enforcement Agency. ("DEA"). On July 11, 2014, Benjamin pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute and Possession with Intent to Distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. S846. United States v. Benjamin, Criminal Action No. RDB-14-00048 (D. Md. 2014). On October 23, 2014, this Court sentenced Benjamin to a term of 228 months imprisonment.

         Benjamin claims the seized jewelry was a gift given to him by family and is unconnected to his criminal activity. (ECF 1, 10). Further, Benjamin argues forfeiting the jewelry was not a part of his plea agreement. He notes that the plea agreement stipulated he forfeited $39, 387.00 in U.S. currency seized on February 7, 2014, but was silent about the seized jewelry. (ECF 1 at 3). He also explains that he had instructed his defense counsel to "do everything in his power" to ensure he retained the jewelry. (ECF 10 at 2).

         NOTIFICATION OF FORFEITURE

         Verified and undisputed records submitted by government counsel show that on April 1, 2014, the DEA sent notice of the seizure and administrative forfeiture proceedings by certified mail, return receipt requested, to Benjamin addressed to 154 Mount Oak Road, Bowie, Maryland. (ECF 6-1 Declaration of Vicki L. Rashid, ("Rashid Decl.") at ¶¶ 4(b)-(g)). On April 2, 2014, an individual, "M. Franklin, " signed the signature block to signify acceptance of delivery of the notice. (Resp. Exhibits 1, 2).

         Additionally, on April 1, 2014, the DEA sent written notice of the seizure by certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to Benjamin, Prisoner ID No. 422470, Chesapeake Detention Facility, 401 East Madison Street, Baltimore, M.D. 21202. On April 3, 3014, an individual, "E Cheatman" signed the signature block to accept delivery of the notice. (Resp. Exhibits 3, 4).

         The notices sent to Benjamin informed him of the administrative proceedings against the seized property and his corresponding rights. Specifically, the notice identified the seized jewelry and explained his options, including: filing a petition for remission of forfeiture within 30 days from receipt of the notice or filing a claim by May 6, 2014. (Rashid Decl. at ¶¶ 4(b) & (c), Resp. Exhibits 1-4). The Notice reads in part:

You may petition the DEA for return of the property or your interest in the property (remission or mitigation) and/or you may contest the seizure and forfeiture of the property in Federal court. You should review the following procedures very carefully.

Id. (emphasis in original). The Notice also contained a section detailing the procedure for requesting remission or mitigation of the forfeiture. Id. This section explained:

If you want to request the remission (pardon) or mitigation of the forfeiture, you must file a petition for remission or mitigation with the Forfeiture Counsel of the DEA within thirty (30) days of your receipt of this notice.

Id. (emphasis in original).) Additionally, the Notice contained a section entitled "TO CONTEST THE FORFEITURE"" which ...


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