Luxury car brand Ferrari produced 349 F50 cars to commemorate their 50th brand anniversary in 1996. One of these 349 cars is at the center of a dispute that prompted the U.S. government to file a petition to find out its rightful owner.
According to the civil action complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized a Ferrari F50 from Quebec, Canada, that was on its way to a car collection in Florida. CBP seized the vehicle because they found a suspicious black substance plastered over the vehicle identification number (VIN).
Further investigation revealed the car was allegedly stolen from a garage at the Hotel Dontello in Imola, Italy, back in 2003. The first owner, who resides in Italy, had documents of proof that they bought the car for $309,500 and had it for a month before it was stolen. The car’s whereabouts after that were unclear until September 2019, when a car collector from Florida reportedly bought it in Canada for almost $2 million. The buyer was clueless about the car’s history, based on the complaint issued by the attorney’s office.
The crux of this case is that now that the vehicle has resurfaced, the previous owner wants it back. However, the new buyer also wants it. The gist of the civil action filed by the attorney’s office is to solve the two-owner problem of the vehicle. While the case is ongoing, the CBP has temporarily taken the car until a resolution is reached.
The attorney’s office explicitly stated that forfeiting the luxury vehicle would be a highly inappropriate action, thus, they are forwarding the matter to court. If, however, the office had resolved to do the opposite and seize the car, the case would be on sensitive grounds. New York’s civil forfeiture laws require a conviction to allow some kinds of forfeitures, and given the vehicle’s history, the government would have the burden to prove that the new buyer had something to do with the alleged theft.
To his credit, the new buyer presented legal documents of government registration and was able to prove that he purchased the car from a legitimate seller in Canada. These documents would virtually shut down any attempts by authorities to forfeit the luxury car. The matter of resolving the car’s true owner is still controversial and up to the courts to decide.
The decision of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to drop any attempts to forfeit the Ferrari was wise. Given that CBP seized the car in New York, the state’s safeguards against abuse of civil asset forfeiture statutes are a little bit stricter than those of most states. Aside from needing a conviction to seize assets, the law also requires full reporting on the process of forfeiting property, including breakdowns on where the proceeds go.
Although there are protections already in place for the owners in New York’s asset forfeiture cases, there are still some particulars to improve in the state’s laws. Situations like this Ferrari case, however, show how prosecutors can rightfully discern between whether or not civil asset forfeiture is appropriate in a particular case.
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