United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to
stay proceedings (Dkt. No. 14). Having thoroughly considered
the Plaintiff's briefing and the relevant record, the
Court hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained
United States of America brings this civil forfeiture
proceeding against the above-captioned assets that it
believes constitute or are derived from proceeds traceable to
an alleged bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and
concealment of money laundering in violation of federal law.
(Dkt. No. 14 at 2.) The United States is concurrently
prosecuting a related criminal case before the Court.
United States of America v. Alexandra Shelburne, et
al., CR17-0203-JCC, Dkt. No. 1 (W.D. Wash. 2017). In
that case, defendants are being prosecuted for aggravated
identity theft, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud,
money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
(Dkt. No. 14 at 2.) As part of the criminal case, the United
States also seeks forfeiture of some of the same assets
identified in this case. (Id.)
in the criminal case is scheduled for March 12, 2018.
(Id. at 3.) The United States continues to
investigate the criminal case. (Id.) The United
States asks to stay this civil forfeiture proceeding because
of the ongoing criminal investigation and the likelihood that
the criminal case will resolve some of the forfeiture issues
in this civil case. (Id.) No parties have objected
to the United States' proposed stay.
Legal Standard for Stay of Civil Forfeiture
law establishes a standard for district courts to use to
decide whether to stay civil forfeiture proceedings when
there is a parallel criminal case. Under 18 U.S.C. §
981(g)(1): “the court shall stay the civil forfeiture
proceeding if the court determines that civil discovery will
adversely affect the ability of the government to conduct a
related criminal investigation or the prosecution of a
related criminal case.” The statute defines a
“related criminal case” as “an actual
prosecution . . . in progress at the time at which the
request for the stay . . . is made.” 18 U.S.C. §
984(g)(4). To determine the relatedness of the proceedings,
courts should look to “the degree of similarity between
the parties, witnesses, facts, and circumstances involved in
the two proceedings.” Id.
the Court finds that the civil forfeiture action and
companion criminal case are related. Both the criminal case
and civil forfeiture action are currently pending before this
Court. Both arise out of an alleged scheme committed by the
Defendants to steal access devices that were then used to
wrongfully withdraw money from victims' bank accounts.
Shelburne, et al., CR17-0203-JCC, Dkt. No. 48 at 2;
(Dkt. No. 1 at 4.) This scheme provides the basis for the
forfeiture of assets in both cases, and the criminal
indictment seeks forfeiture of some of the same assets named
in the civil action. Shelburne, et al.,
CR17-0203-JCC, Dkt. No. 48 at 15-17; (Dkt. No. 1 at 55-59.)
Court finds that civil discovery would adversely affect the
government's ongoing investigation in the criminal case.
The broad scope of civil discovery would allow claimants in
the civil forfeiture action, such as the criminal Defendants,
to obtain information about the ongoing criminal
investigation-for example, the identities and contact
information of individuals supporting the government in its
criminal investigation. (Dkt. No. 14 at 6.) Civil discovery
could also provide Defendants with the opportunity to obtain
investigation materials that would not otherwise be available
as part of criminal discovery. (Id.) Allowing civil
discovery could clearly frustrate the government's
ongoing criminal investigation.
Court finds that the civil and criminal cases are
sufficiently related and that civil discovery will adversely
affect the government's ability to investigate and
prosecute the criminal case. Therefore, a stay of the civil
forfeiture action is mandated by 18 U.S.C. § 981(g)(1).
foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's motion to stay the civil
case (Dkt. No. 14) is GRANTED. All proceedings in this case
are STAYED until its companion criminal case, United
States v. Shelburne, et al., CR17-0203-JCC, is resolved,
either through a verdict or by way of plea. The United ...