Judge dismisses case over FBI raid of 1,400 private safe-deposit boxes and seizure of millions in jewelry and cash

FBI agents search safe-deposit boxes at the US Private Vaults store in Beverly Hills in this video screen capture taken from a US District Court document.
FBI agents searching boxes at the US Private Vaults store in Beverly Hills, California. This video capture is from the court documents.US District Court
  • A judge has ruled the March 2021 FBI raid of US Private Vaults did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

  • Deposit-box holders whose property was seized in the raid and has not been returned sued the bureau.

  • A lawyer involved in the class action said the raid was the "largest armed robbery in US history."

A judge ruled on September 29 that federal agents who raided 1,400 safe-deposit boxes in March 2021 at a private vault company did not violate search and seizure laws, court documents shared with Insider show.

A lawsuit filed in August alleged the FBI and the US attorney's office in Los Angeles obtained warrants against US Private Vaults in Beverly Hills, California, by concealing critical details from the judge who approved them.

In his ruling, District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner found no impropriety in the way the government got or executed the warrants for the raid. He dismissed the class-action suit filed on behalf of the people whose boxes had been seized.

The vault company was shut down following the raid and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money.

Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson for the FBI, told Insider: "Today's District Court ruling makes it clear that agents investigating criminal activity at US Private Vaults did not mislead the court and affirms the FBI's position that the investigation was conducted without malice and in a manner consistent with the law, FBI policies and the US Constitution."

The lawsuit was filed after FBI agents raided the Beverly Hills branch of US Private Vaults, seizing more than $86 million in cash, as well as jewelry and gold from 1,400 safe-deposit boxes. It said owners' items still had not been returned and that agents misled a judge to get the warrant.

None of the people who owned the boxes has been charged after almost five years of investigating; various agencies concluded "the problem was the business itself," court documents said.

Regarding the unreturned items, Eimiller said that agents "outlined evidence of widespread criminal wrongdoing in court filings while establishing a simple procedure to return safeguarded contents to box holders who were not otherwise subject to asset forfeiture."

Robert Frommer, a lawyer representing at least 400 plaintiffs in the class-action suit, said in an earlier filing that the government "did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done."

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

In new emails with Insider, Frommer confirmed that they intended to appeal the ruling.

Rob Johnson, an attorney who works with Frommer, described the ruling as a "shocking decision" that "will set a dangerous precedent that will allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to bypass the Fourth Amendment.

"The decision will give a blueprint for the government to pry open safe-deposit boxes, storage lockers, and other private spaces," he said, "and to take the contents with civil forfeiture."

Johnson added: "There is no question that we will be filing an appeal."

"FBI stands by its ongoing investigation of US Private Vaults," Eimiller said, "a business that criminally facilitated drug trafficking and money laundering, and which allowed customers to store their criminal proceeds anonymously in safe-deposit boxes."

According to the court papers, US Private Vaults solicited criminal clientele on its website, saying the less it knew about its customers, the better. The company advertised its services to help customers "avoid 'government agencies (such as the IRS) or attorneys armed with court orders.'"

Documents also said US Private Vaults did not rent solely to criminal customers and many customers used its services for legitimate reasons.

Read the original article on Business Insider