United States of America v. Funds up to and Including the Amount of $56,634 in U.S. Currency on Deposit in Banesco International, Panama, Account #201000274785, Titled in the Name of Inversiones Cedeno C.A., and/or Property Traceable Thereto, No. 12-0259 (D.D.C. Feb. 4, 2015) [click for opinion]
Plaintiff, the United States of America, filed a verified complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking in rem civil forfeiture of several bank accounts in Panama pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 981(a)(1)(A), 984. Plaintiff published notice of the action on the government forfeiture website www.forfeiture.gov for thirty days, in compliance with the notice by publication procedures provided in the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions ("Supplemental Rules") governing in rem forfeitures. In addition, Plaintiff tried to send direct notice to the persons or entities known to have a claim or interest in the Defendant bank accounts. Specifically, Plaintiff asked Panama to restrain the funds in the accounts and to provide Plaintiff with the account holder information. Panama did restrain the funds but failed to provide any contact information for the account holders, even after a second request.
After no person or entity filed a claim to the accounts within the time period permitted by the Supplemental Rules, Plaintiff obtained an entry of default against the accounts from the Clerk of Court, and then moved the district court to enter a default judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2). The district court has discretion to determine whether a default judgment is appropriate, and, while an entry of default establishes liability, Plaintiff must prove its entitlement to the amount of monetary damages requested.
The court found that Plaintiff was entitled to an entry of default judgment against the accounts and an order of forfeiture of the funds and interest accrued therein. The verified complaint established the necessary facts for civil forfeiture under the Supplemental Rules. As for notice, the court acknowledged that Plaintiff was not able to provide direct notice to the account holders. However, the court held that by having Panama restrain the accounts, attempting to obtain the account holders' contact information, and posting public notice of the action on the government forfeiture website, Plaintiff exercised sufficient efforts to provide notice "by means reasonably calculated to reach the potential claimant[s]" as required by the Supplemental Rules. Accordingly, the court granted Plaintiff's motion for default judgment as to the Defendant bank accounts and ordered forfeiture of the sums contained therein to Plaintiff.