Report: FBI Misled Judge in $86 Million Raid on Beverly Hills Vaults

The Feds didn’t tell the warrant-signing judge they planned to keep the $86M—before losing several legal attempts to do just that

Following the March 2021 FBI raid on the U.S Private Vaults store in Beverly Hills that has been raising questions and a stink ever since, it now appears that the Feds got their warrant for the action by neglecting to tell the judge who signed it that they intended to keep every bit of loot they pried out of every safe deposit box containing $5,000 or more in cash and prizes.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the failure of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles to disclose the confiscation plan in the raid request was revealed in FBI documents and depositions of agents in a class-action lawsuit by box holders who say the raid violated their rights. The specific information about the agencies’ alleged scheme to bag for themselves the contents of all $5000-and-over deposit boxes comes from recent testimony by a senior FBI agent.

The raid—which the government justified on the presumption that hundreds of box holders were hoarding illegally-gotten assets—was particularly intrusive.

Federal agents descending on the Olympic Boulevard strip mall location manhandled the personal belongings of a jazz saxophone player, an interior designer, a retired doctor, a flooring contractor and a couple of Century City lawyers, among hundreds of others, notes the Times. Feds also made video and photo records of customers’ most sensitive documents: pay stubs, password lists, credit cards, a prenuptial agreement, immigration and vaccination records, bank statements and a will all made it into government databases, court docs show.

The crime busters also discovered cremated human remains (we presume of a legally interred person) in one renter’s box.

The court filings further indicate that federal agents defied restrictions that U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim set in the warrant when they searched through box holders’ belongings for evidence of crimes.

“The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done,” Robert Frommer, a lawyer who represents nearly 400 box holders in the class-action case, wrote in court papers, the Times reports. “That’s why the warrant application did not even attempt to argue there was probable cause to seize and forfeit box renters’ property.”

The case has stunk from jump. While the owners of U.S. Private Vaults pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money this March, a year after the raid, that doesn’t speak to the myriad customers whose assets the FBI has been so hot to have.

In June 2021, three months after the raid, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner issued a temporary restraining order halting the FBI’s attempt to keep the fortune it seized from 369 of the safe deposit boxes, saying investigators hadn’t proven that the box holders had committed any crimes.

In siding with four box holders who filed one of a dozen lawsuits against the FBI at the time, the judge cited the Fifth Amendment prohibition against deprivation of property without due process, stating, “This notice, put bluntly, provides no factual basis for the seizure of Plaintiffs’ property whatsoever.”

Three months after that, the government was still itching to hold onto other people’s money, asking a judge to let it keep an additional $154,600 in cash from one box holder and $330,000 from another because a drug-sniffing dog alerted on the money. This led two assistant U.S. attorneys to suggest that “the funds are drug-related.” Problems with that theory include the fact that at least two other vaults were used by licensed marijuana sellers (who are prevented from using banks by federal drug laws), and that the scent could have spread from any of the cash in the bank where the government was storing all of its questionably confiscated bonanza.

For all the playtime cops-n-robbers, not one person’s been sent to prison. U.S. Private Vaults shuttered and has to pay a $1.1 million fine for laundering drug money, but prosecutors acknowledged that the arch criminals don’t have the funds to pay it off.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office denied to the Times that the agencies misled the judge or ignored conditions of the warrant, saying agents had no obligation to tell Judge Kim they planned to ransack the privately-rented boxes under the umbrella theory that every customer was a black market mastermind.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the warrants were lawfully executed “based on allegations of widespread criminal wrongdoing.”

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