A class-action lawsuit filed in May 2021 has exposed a massive cash grab by the Federal Bureau of Investigations alleging that FBI agents seized $85 million worth of cash and belongings from some 800 safe deposit boxes during a special operation in Los Angeles.
The substantial cash grab occurred when the FBI was raiding US Private Vaults (USPV), a storage provider, court documents inform.
Illegal FBI operation
In carrying out the operation, however, the FBI operatives “exceeded” their rights under the court-approved search warrant, thus grabbing from hundreds of safe deposit boxes precious metals, cash, and family heirlooms with an estimated total value of $85 million.
The actual owners of the contents of the safe-deposit boxes were never accused of any crimes, and solely the storage provider, USPV, was indicted on conspiracy charges of money laundering and selling drugs.
Thus, the FBI was only authorized by the search warrant to inspect the deposit boxes in order to establish their owners and let them know that they should claim their property.
Yet, FBI agents were filmed going through the contents of the boxes even after they had identified the names of the owners.
They can be seen tearing open coin packages, among others.
One owner’s lawyer told the LA Times that $75,000 in gold coins appears to be missing from the FBI’s inventory list.
According to the seizure notice’s asset list, over a dozen safety deposit boxes contained more than $1 million in cash each, while multiple others contained cash in the six figures.
Other boxes included gold, silver, collectible coins, jewelry, and “precious items”.
You might never get your stuff back
As owners stand the chance of losing the valuables they had stored in their safe deposit boxes unless a federal judge intervenes, a temporary restraining order was filed on their behalf this week by a watchdog accountability group called the Institute for Justice.
Upon announcing the case, the group’s attorney, Robert Frommer, described the FBI cash grab as “the most outrageous abuse” under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution that the watchdog has ever encountered.
He likened the FBI actions to a situation in which the police would break into all apartments of a building managed by a drug-dealing landlord.
The IJ filed the temporary restraining order on behalf of the owners.
A preliminary injunction motion, filed on June 3, is supposed to force the FBI to offer an explanation for the property seizures or to give the property back.
A hearing is scheduled for July 12.