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The Justice Department has agreed to return more than $1 million that California sheriff’s deputies stole from Empyreal Logistics, an armored-car company that serves state-licensed marijuana businesses, reported reason.com.
The decision overruled San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus’ attempt to evade California law, which does not allow forfeiture of the money.
Empyreal is a fintech and armored car company operating in 28 states that provides cash logistics solutions. This includes secure delivery between legal businesses (such as state-licensed cannabis businesses) and financial institutions. By design, Empyreal never transports cannabis products. Empyreal also serves a growing list of non-cannabis businesses, including financial institutions, restaurants, and convenience stores.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies took $700,000 from Empyreal vans in November and about $350,000 in December.
Taking it to the courts
Empyreal sued the Justice Department, the FBI and the DEA, arguing that federal forfeiture of the money would violate a congressional spending rider that bars the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana programs.
In addition, Empyreal noted that a California statute explicitly states that a company that transports money from state-licensed marijuana businesses “does not commit a crime under any California law.”
“Empyreal has always viewed ourselves as a partner to financial institutions and law enforcement. Our service increases transparency and makes communities safer,” said Empyreal CEO Deirdra O’Gorman. “Empyreal is committed to continuing our mission of working with financial institutions and their state-legal business customers.”
Attorney Dan Alban from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, said that Empyreal was operating legally.
“Empyreal was operating legally under California law, but with current federal civil forfeiture laws, even compliant businesses can be targeted. Civil forfeiture enabled law enforcement to seize over a million dollars in legal business proceeds and threaten to keep it,” Alban said who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Pennsylvania-based company.
“Returning this money is the right thing to do and we’re pleased to have helped Empyreal secure this outcome,” Alban added.
In exchange for the return of the funds, Empyreal will dismiss its case against the federal government over the seizures.