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United States v. Sum of Three Hundred Nine Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 27, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SUM OF THREE HUNDRED NINE MILLION FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS, Defendant

Page 112

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff: Ann Marie Blaylock Bacon, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, DC; Zia Mustafa Faruqui, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

For RICHARD L. STETHEM, as Administrator of the Estate of Robert Stethem and individually, PATRICIA STETHEM, SHERYL SIERRALTA, KENNETH STETHEM, PATRICK STETHEM, Claimants: Joseph Jude Zito, LEAD ATTORNEY, ZITO, TLP, Washington, DC; Evan Van Leer-Greenberg, PRO HAC VICE, VAN LEER & GREENBERG ESQS, New York, NY.

Page 113

OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge.

The United States, proceeding as the plaintiff in this civil forfeiture action, has filed a motion to strike the verified claim and answer of claimants Richard L. Stethem (individually and in his capacity as Administrator of the Estate of Robert Stethem), Patricia Stethem, Sheryl Sierralta, Kenneth Stethem, and Patrick Stethem (collectively, the " Stethem Claimants" or the " Stethems" ) for lack of standing. Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court concludes that the Stethem Claimants lack standing to challenge the forfeiture and that their claims for remission or mitigation are nonjusticiable. The motion to strike therefore will be granted.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

A. Nature of the Forfeiture Action

The United States initiated this litigation to seek the forfeiture of more than $300 million from ING Bank, N.V. (" ING" ). See Compl. ¶ 2. According to the United States, from the early 1990s until 2007, ING unlawfully facilitated United States currency transactions for Iranian and Cuban customers who were subject to U.S. sanctions. Id. ¶ ¶ 5-6. In June 2012, ING wired the defendant funds to the Internal Revenue Service pursuant to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement entered into between ING and the government. Id. The United States contends that the defendant funds are substitute property for ING funds of at least $619 million used to promote a conspiracy to violate the Trading With the Enemy Act, 50 U.S.C. app. § § 1-4, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. § § 1701-1706, and the regulations promulgated under each Act, thus violating 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2), which proscribes, inter alia,

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" transferr[ing funds] . . . to a place in the United States from or through a place outside the United States with the intent to promote" unlawful activity. Compl. ¶ ¶ 11, 14-15, 18-19.

B. Allegations of the Stethem Claimants' Claim and Answer

The Stethems have filed a claim in this action asserting a purported interest in a portion of the defendant funds. See Stethem Cl. at 1. The full narrative of the tragic events underlying the Stethem Claimants' asserted interest in this case can be found in Stethem v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 201 F.Supp.2d 78 (D.D.C. 2002). On Friday, June 14, 1985, armed hijackers took control of TransWorld Airlines Flight No. 847, departing Athens, Greece. Id. at 80. Among the 143 passengers on board were U.S. citizens and servicemen Robert Stethem, Kurt Carlson, Stuart Dahl, Jeffery Ingalls, Clinton Suggs, Tony Watson, and Kenneth Bowen, en route back to the United States from various assignments abroad. Id. The hijackers retained control of the flight for sixteen hours, during which time several of these servicemen were brutally beaten. Id. Robert Stethem, a 23-year-old Navy petty officer, was executed bye gunshot to the head and shoved from the plane onto the tarmac at the Beirut, Lebanon airport. Id. at 80-81. The surviving servicemen were held captive in Beirut until June 30, 1985. Id. at 80.

The servicemen, their spouses, and the family of Robert Stethem later brought suit against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Ministry of Information and Security under the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. See Stethem v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 201 F.Supp.2d at 80-81, 85-86. A judgment for compensatory damages and $300 million in punitive damages was entered in April 2002 against the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security for its role in providing support and resources to Hizballah and Amal, the terrorist organizations responsible for ...


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