The owner of the vehicle will be notified by mail. As far as the U.S. Marshals are concerned the "owner" is the person recorded at the state’s department of motor vehicles as being the owner. The "owner" has the right to lay claim to the vehicle. Its seizure will be advertised in a local paper for three consecutive weeks. Usually this advertisement will occur in some newspaper that you would never read but is the official newspaper of official notices.
The owner has the right to the return of his vehicle if he simply "lent it to another," or the illegal alien discovered in the vehicle was unknown to the owner … a "hitchhiker"?
It is also possible to have the vehicle released if it is obvious something strange had occurred. If it was a truck carrying a dozen porta-potties and one of the potty’s was filled with illegals then there is some reasonable chance that the owner and driver had not a clue and so the vehicle would be released.
Then there are "rental cars." If a rental car is seized it can only be released if there is a valid rental contract in the car and or the rental agreement and the "renter" has the credit card used to rent the vehicle. There will be a detailed financial investigation of all the persons involved.
One real problem is a "taxi." These are considered "common carriers" like buses and trains and really big airplanes even though some taxi drivers / owners are full fledged smugglers.
Then there are cover deals. Someone might "sell" a vehicle to a smuggler for $3,000 and the smuggler will put $100 down with the rest to be paid in full in six months. When the car is seized it is shown that the smuggler has a very small interest in the vehicle and the "owner" can then petition to have the car returned.
What do you do with a mile long freight train with illegals sitting among the freight? Do you seize the train? No. It is a common carrier (see above).
If the vehicle was not used by a commercial smuggler then often a $500 fine is sufficient to get the vehicle released. Again, the vehicle may even be an airplane or a boat. Any vehicles not returned to their "owner" will be sold at auction.
The U.S. Marshall’s Service will sell the vehicle at a real public auction. The identity of all bidders will be determined. If you go to an auction and are a smuggler or a criminal alien then you can be discovered and you can get three years in a concrete residential facility in the desert.
Most criminals are not too bright and easily returned to "federal residences" where all the furniture has been securely bolted to the floor. It is amazing how many people are arrested at the front doors of prisons because they went to visit their "ol man" and were carrying drugs, guns, whatever.
On any given day there are more than 4,000 seized vehicles in the United States' San Ysidro Port of Entry seizure lot alone. The storage fee is about a dollar a day. Buying one of these vehicles at auction may be a very big mistake.
First, most people who are arrested and their vehicles seized are messy and do not take good care of their equipment.
Second, most such vehicles were "expendable" and were worthless to begin with.
Third — and this could be a VERY big problem for you in the future — the vehicle could have been used in a drug deal and still contain drugs. Yes, the feds looked it over really closely and removed everything that they found. But when you drive that vehicle someplace like Mexico and get stopped and they find 25 year old fermented-to-a-brown-paste marijuana you will get . five years in a Mexican prison. You will serve those five years. If you take the vehicle in for some repair in this country and the mechanic (who is on parole and needs a favor from his parole officer) sees something taped underneath the car you will spend $40,000 explaining everything to the feds through a dapperly dressed criminal attorney.
The USBP does not get the proceeds from the sale of the vehicle. The money goes to the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
If for some reason "it was all a mistake" and the vehicle is not released then it is possible to file a petition and have it adjudicated. The vehicle owner has ten days to submit a letter for "Re-Consideration." At this point the letter goes to the Chief Patrol Agent who can return the vehicle or release it for sale by the U.S. Marshals.
There are other serious things that can happen to your property. Your real property (eg. house) can be seized under Sec. 9192 and / or 1978 and / or 1997. This is true if you have been manufacturing false documents or have any in your possession.
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