Newly unsealed court documents suggest that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles seemingly misled a federal judge to execute a sweeping invasion of privacy and confiscation of wealth from private citizens.
In 2021, federal agents raided U.S. Private Vaults, a safety deposit box company. During the raid, over 1,400 safety deposit boxes belonging to nearly 400 customers were forcibly opened through prying and drilling.
In total, FBI agents found and confiscated over $86 million in cash and millions more in other valuables throughout the course of the raid.
The safety deposit box holders that were the victims of this mass search and seizure have since filed a class action lawsuit.
In released FBI documents and depositions of agents involved, it has been revealed that finding and taking these citizens’ monetary assets was the target of the raid. Reportedly, this critical motivation was not disclosed to the judge who issued the warrant granting federal agents the authority to raid U.S. Private Vaults as a whole.
A senior FBI agent recently admitted that this confiscation of assets was central to the purpose of the raid and that the FBI had set a target of permanent confiscation of the contents of any box that contained at least $5,000 in cash or valuables.
The judge, in issuing the warrant, provided strict instructions to the federal agents that barred them from conducting any “criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safety deposit boxes.”
The judge ordered agents to only identify the owners of the safety deposit boxes and return their belongings.
In court documents, Robert Frommer, a lawyer who represents nearly 400 box holders in the class-action case, wrote, “The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done.”
“That’s why the warrant application did not even attempt to argue there was probable cause to seize and forfeit box renters’ property,” Frommer continued.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, however, maintain that they did not mislead the judge, arguing that these government agencies had no obligation to communicate their desire for indiscriminate confiscation of money and valuables within the individual safety deposit boxes.
“At no time was a magistrate misled as to the probable cause used to obtain the warrants,” an FBI spokesperson said.
The class action suit seeks to have the raid declared unconstitutional, which could force the return of millions of dollars in assets to the safety deposit box holders.
What led to the raid was a two-year investigation into U.S. Private Vaults itself. The business was charged with conspiracy to sell drugs and launder money and later entered into a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
And while the government has alleged in court documents that U.S. Private Vaults customers are “criminals,” none have been charged with a crime as of now. And yet millions of dollars in their assets remain in the possession of the government.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “box holders would liken the raid to police barging into a building’s 700 apartments and taking every tenant’s possessions when they have evidence of wrongdoing by nobody but the landlord.”
Sean Davis, founder of the news site The Federalist, retweeted an article about this story and wrote, “The FBI is trash. It is both a domestic terrorist organization and a criminal cartel, and it should no longer be allowed to exist in what used to be a free country with laws.”
This comes as the FBI and the Department of Justice more broadly have come under fire for allegedly acting in a partisan or inappropriate way, as reported by The Dallas Express.
Whistleblowers within the agency have recently approached members of Congress to shed light upon certain activities that seemingly suggest misconduct.