Home Technology Lawsuit Filed Over FBI Raid on 1,400 Boxes at US Private Vaults Branch

Lawsuit Filed Over FBI Raid on 1,400 Boxes at US Private Vaults Branch

by Atlanta Business Journal
  • Deposit box holders whose property was seized by the FBI in a March 2021 raid are suing the bureau.
  • The agency raided US Private Vaults and seized the contents of 1,400 safety deposit boxes.
  • A lawyer involved in the class-action said the FBI raid was the “largest armed robbery in US history.”

A lawsuit filed after FBI agents raided a Beverly Hills vault company, seizing more than $86 million in cash as well as jewelry and gold from 1,400 safety deposit boxes, claims owners’ items have still not been returned and that agents misled a judge to get the warrant.

Agents raided a branch of US Private Vaults in Beverly Hills in March 2021 and seized assets from boxes held by hundreds of people who were not suspected in any crimes, state court papers reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The FBI and the US attorney’s office in Los Angeles obtained search and seizure warrants against US Private Vaults by concealing critical details from the judge who approved them, according to the lawsuit.

Robert Frommer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice which brought the lawsuit, said in the court papers: “The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done.”

After the raid many box-holders asked the FBI for their property back, Frommer told Insider.

“We brought suit on behalf of seven clients, but we were representing a class of at least 400 people. What we’ve been trying to show for the past several months is that the government’s actions violated the search and seizure protections of the US constitution in the Fourth Amendment,” he said.

“The scope of what the FBI did is unprecedented,” Frommer added. “This was the largest armed robbery in United States history, and it was committed by the FBI.”

After a two-year investigation that began in 2019, leaders of the FBI’s Los Angeles office believed boxes at US Private Vaults were being used by criminals to store illicit proceeds. 

The FBI requested and obtained warrants to seize US Private Vaults’ business property. However, a senior FBI agent recently testified that the warrant omitted a key part of the bureau’s plan – to permanently seize everything in every box that contained at least $5,000 in cash or goods, the LA Times reported.

Frommer said in an Institute for Justice press release last month: “The FBI lied about its intentions in claiming to only be interested in the property of the business, and not the box holders. Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops into robbers.”

Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, told the LA Times the warrants were lawfully executed “based on allegations of widespread criminal wrongdoing. At no time was a magistrate misled as to the probable cause used to obtain the warrants.”

US Private Vaults has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money, and the investigation was continuing, Eimiller added.

The FBI and Department of Justice did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Frommer wants the government to destroy any information or records obtained from customers’ boxes in what he said was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” It requires the government to get a warrant by showing probable cause explaining why a location needs to be searched and describing specifically what it is seizing.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have asked for the FBI raid to be deemed unconstitutional by a district judge, the LA Times reported. Doing so could force the return of assets worth millions of dollars to box holders. 

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