- Vault holders whose assets were seized by the FBI in a raid in March 2021 are suing the bureau.
- The agency raided US private safes and seized the contents of 1,400 safes.
- A lawyer involved in the class action said the FBI raid was the “largest armed robbery in United States history”.
A lawsuit filed after FBI agents raided a Beverly Hills safe deposit box company, seizing more than $86 million in cash as well as jewelry and gold from 1,400 safes, claims that the owners’ items have still not been returned and that officers misled a judge to secure it.
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 of any crime, say court documents reported by the Los Angeles Time.
The FBI and the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles obtained search and seizure warrants against US Private Vaults by withholding critical details from the judge who approved them, according to the lawsuit.
Robert Frommer, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice who filed the lawsuit, said in court papers: ‘The government didn’t know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what those people did. , if applicable.”
After the raid, many box holders asked the FBI to get their property back, Frommer told Insider.
“We sued on behalf of seven clients, but we represented a class of at least 400 people. What we have been trying to show for several months is that the government’s actions violated protections against searches and seizures of the U.S. Constitution in the Fourth Amendment,” he said.
“The scale of what the FBI has done is unprecedented,” Frommer added. “It was the largest armed robbery in US history, and it was carried out by the FBI.”
After a two-year investigation that began in 2019, officials from the FBI office in Los Angeles believed that boxes in the United States Private Vaults were used by criminals to store illicit goods.
The FBI sought and obtained warrants to seize commercial assets from US Private Vaults. 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 containing at least $5,000 in cash or merchandise, the LA reported. Times.
Frommer said in an Institute for Justice Press release last month: “The FBI lied about its intentions by claiming to be only interested in the ownership of the business, not the box holders. Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops to robbers.”
Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, told the LA Times that the warrants were lawfully executed “based on allegations of widespread foul play. At no time was a magistrate misled as to the probable cause used to obtain the warrants”.
US Private Vaults has pleaded guilty for conspiracy to launder drug money, and the investigation was continuing, Eimiller added.
The FBI and Justice Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
Frommer wants the government to destroy any information or records obtained from customer boxes in what he said is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable search and seizure.” It requires the government to obtain a warrant showing probable cause explaining why a place should be searched and describing precisely what it is seizing.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit have asked that the FBI raid be ruled unconstitutional by a district judge, the LA Times reported. This could force the return of assets worth millions of dollars to box holders.