Brazzers Parent Loses Round Over $5.3M in Seized Funds

ATLANTA — A federal judge today denied Mansef Inc.'s request to dismiss the government's seizure of $5.3 million in funds that were used to facilitate vendor payments from third-party credit card processors.

U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes also allowed pre-trial discovery to take up to six months in the case, plus additional time for further motions, after Mansef provides answers to the complaint.

With today's ruling, Mansef's battle over the seized funds could drag on until fall or beyond before a jury or judge hears the case.

Carnes made her decision after hearing over an hour of oral arguments from both sides at a status conference in Atlanta.

The seizure is the first of two the government has applied to Brazzers' parent company. Another civil seizure suit amounts to $1.1 million.

Mansef set up an Atlanta company last year called Premium Services Inc. to facilitate payments from its third-party credit card processors into the accounts and to allow the company to remit funds out of two checking accounts to its U.S. vendors.

But the Secret Service claims in both suits filed at U.S. District Court in Atlanta that Premium Services was not registered with the federal Treasury Department nor with the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance as a money-transmitting business.

The government noted that Premium Services has no known office building nor employees and operates at a mail drop called The Mail Room.

Federal authorities say in the complaint that for three months last year Premium Services received $9.4 million in wire transfers from various sources and that much of the funds originated overseas in countries such as Israel, considered by law enforcement to be at high risk for money-laundering activity.

U.S. authorities claim that the funds in two accounts is forfeitable under 18 U.S.C. § 981 (a)(1)(A) as property involved in or traceable to a transaction in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1960, which prohibit’s unlicensed money-transmitting businesses.

The seizures have been hard for the Montreal-based company. Mansef says that the U.S. government has "significantly harmed" its operations when it seized millions that were used to facilitate vendor payments from third-party credit card processors.

"Not surprisingly, this seizure of more than $6 million was a devastating blow to both Premium and Mansef and further severely inhibited Mansef’s ability to continue to operate," Mansef attorneys wrote in a brief last month.

Measures to win back the funds apparently have been frustating and futile for Mansef.

In earlier motions, Mansef said it couldn't properly make claims to the seized funds because the government is fending off the deposition of two Secret Service agents in the case who initiated the civil forfeiture case against Premium Services, the Atlanta unit that facilitated payments.

And Mansef attorneys say that in the five months since the seizure, they have answered all of the government’s interrogatories and voluntarily provided to the government about 500 pages of documents in their possession that could be relevant to the its claim and the their defenses.

Carnes on Tuesday did not rule on whether the Secret Service agents could be deposed.

Susan Ross, one of three litigators representing Mansef, did not immediately return XBIZ calls on Tuesday for inquiry.