The FBI Stole a Man’s Rare and Expensive Coin Collection & They Have No Plans to Give it Back

By: Lauren | Last updated: Nov 10, 2023

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the FBI, has made headlines for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a California man’s safety deposit box. 

While the FBI apparently confiscated the coins when searching for laundered money, the issue is that the agency hasn’t made any plans to return the innocent man’s money. 

The FBI Raided a California Safety Storage Company

Here’s what happened: The FBI believed that a group of high-profile drug dealers was using a California safety storage company to launder their illegal profits. 


Source: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

So the agency raided all of the safety deposit boxes at the facility and sequestered everything they found. But the problem is that the FBI now refuses to return the contents of the boxes to their rightful owners, even after assessing that the boxes did not hold the laundered money they were looking for.


How Can the FBI Keep Their Findings?

Technically, the FBI is legally allowed to keep anything confiscated during an investigation via the “civil asset forfeiture” law. 


Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Although this law has been in place for decades, it’s become more and more of a public nuisance since the 1980s and is now considered a serious problem. 

Problems With Asset Forfeiture

Law professor Illya Somin stated the issue clearly, “Asset forfeiture abuse is a serious problem in both the federal law enforcement system and in many states.” 


Source: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

He continued, “It often enables law enforcement agencies to seize citizens’ property without convicting them of a crime or even charging them. Then, procedural barriers make it difficult or impossible for the owners to reclaim their assets, even if they are completely innocent.”

The Raid of the California Safety Deposit Boxes Was Especially Problematic

While the FBI’s careless seizure of personal property is certainly an issue in and of itself, the raid of the California safety deposit boxes is particularly negligible as the FBI seems to have forgotten to document their takings. 


Source: Freepik

This means that those innocent citizens who are now fighting to get their property back cannot do so, as there is no record of what was taken from their storage unit. 

Don Mellein Is Fighting to Get His Savings Back

Among the many people who lost their personal property in the California raid, one man, 79-year-old Don Mellein, is fighting to get his back. 

Source: Emmanuele Contini/Getty Images

He reported that his safety deposit box held 110 collectible gold coins that were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, unsurprisingly, he wants them back. 


What Don Mellein Has to Say About the Situation

Mellein explained his frustrating situation to the press, “The FBI had no reason to go through my box and they were careless in losing my savings.”

Source: iStock

He continued, “I’m disappointed that I have to sue again in order to get property back that should have been given back to me over two years ago.”


The FBI Apparently “Lost” Mellein’s Hard Earned Savings

When Mellein first brought the situation to the FBI, they said they didn’t even know where his 110 coins were or if they even had them.

Source: Adobe Stock

And after suing the agency, the FBI spontaneously found 47 of the coins but apparently, still have no idea where the other 63 are. 


The Institute for Justice Is Working to Force the FBI to Return Mellein’s Coins

A famous non-profit organization called the Institute for Justice has taken on Don Mellein’s case against the FBI.

Source: Institute for Justice

The Institute of Justice claims that this is a wildly important lawsuit as “We’re basically fighting against the notion that people shouldn’t have a remedy against the government when the government takes their property.”


The American People Deserve to Trust Their Law Enforcement

What’s especially strange about Mellein’s case is that the FBI threatened that he would never see his coins again if he didn’t drop the case, which is obviously an abuse of power. 

Source: University of Central Florida

And sadly, this is just one example of why people around the country have developed an extreme mistrust in law enforcement. One representative from the Institute of Justice explained, When I was growing up, we trusted and respected law enforcement, especially the FBI. I’m not filing this lawsuit just for me, I’m fighting for a better world where people can trust law enforcement to do the right thing. I’m fighting to make law enforcement better.”


Mr. Mellein Isn’t the Only One Who Lost Their Savings in the Incident

Although Mellein’s case is making headlines, his story is unfortunately not unique. 

Source: Alfred Gescheidt/Getty Images

In fact, there were 1,400 people who lost money or valuables during this specific FBI raid in California; Jeni Pearsons reported that she lost $20,000 in silver and $2,000 in cash that she has yet to see returned. 


Sadly, Thousands of People Have Lost Their Money to the FBI

Realistically, the FBI either stole or lost the property and money of over 1,000 people, and that’s just within this one incident, and while it’s not well documented, this has likely happened to tens of thousands of people over the years. 

Source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

It’s a sad day when a 79-year-old man needs to fight in court for his own life savings to be returned from the federal government, but unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon.