the Federalist | by Evita Duffy | September 27, 2022
‘The government’s theory is that having cash makes you a presumptive criminal, and I think every American should be worried about that.’
There is no denying anymore that our federal agencies have weaponized their power against the political adversaries of the left. But if you think the feds’ abandonment of all standards only affects outspoken critics of the regime, think again. More allegations of FBI corruption and hubris are coming to light after a lawsuit last week revealed FBI agents misled a judge so they could illegally seize and withhold property from innocent American citizens.
Agents took more than $86 million in cash, jewelry, and gold from 1,400 safe deposit boxes during the raid of a Beverly Hills vault company in March 2021. Lawyers representing a group of deposit box owners claim their items were illegally taken and not returned to them more than a year after the raid of the Beverly Hills, California, branch of U.S. Private Vaults.
Seizing Innocent Americans’ Assets
This past March, a year after the raid, the owners of U.S. Private Vaults pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money. However, the hundreds of citizens whose assets were seized by the FBI are not suspected of any crimes, according to court documents.
Deposit box holders whose property was taken sued the bureau for violating their rights. Robert Frommer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, the libertarian, nonprofit law firm that filed the suit, said in the court papers: “We brought suit on behalf of seven clients, but we were representing a class of at least 400 people. What we’ve been trying to show for the past several months is that the government’s actions violated the search-and-seizure protections of the US Constitution in the Fourth Amendment.”
According to Los Angeles Magazine, federal agents “manhandled the personal belongings” of box holders and “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 feds also found cremated human remains (“we presume of a legally interred person,” LA Magazine notes) while snooping in one person’s box.
Jennifer and Paul Snitko were two of those people who kept items at the Beverly Hills U.S. Private Vaults. The couple placed wills, backup hard drives, old family watches, and Paul’s flight log in their deposit box until their personal possessions were seized during the raid. The couple kept their valuables in the vault because they live in a fire-prone area and worried they could miss taking some of their important belongings during California’s frequent fire evacuations.
Jennifer and Paul are just two of many people who had no idea that U.S. Private Vaults might have been breaking the law since the establishment had been open for years and was a member of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.
After the raid, the feds demanded that box holders submit to an investigation before having their possessions returned. “It was scary to learn that we had to submit our personal information,” said Jennifer with tears in her eyes. “We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Minutes after Jennifer and Paul announced a lawsuit with the Institute for Justice, an FBI agent reached out, saying their belongings would be returned. However, other box holders have still not received their property back. And as the Institute for Justice points out, the government had no right to seize their property and force them to prove their innocence in the first place.
FBI Misleads Judge Kim to Obtain a Warrant
Agents appeared to have gotten their warrant to raid the vault by neglecting to tell U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim, who signed the warrant, that they intended to keep all the assets found in every safe deposit box containing $5,000 or more in cash and valuables.
The failure on the part of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles to reveal the plan to confiscate private citizens’ belongings in the warrant application was revealed in FBI documents and depositions of agents in the aforementioned lawsuit. Agents further defied restrictions set in the warrant by Kim when they searched through box holders’ belongings for evidence of crimes. The warrant explicitly noted that it “does not authorize a criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safety deposit boxes,” but only allowed the FBI to look inside in order to identify the owners and return their property to them, Institute for Justice reported.
“The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done,” wrote Frommer. “That’s why the warrant application did not even attempt to argue there was probable cause to seize and forfeit box renters’ property.”
FBI Tries Skirting Judge Klausner’s Orders
Three months after the raid, in June 2021, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner issued a temporary restraining order, stopping the FBI’s attempt to keep the property it seized from 369 of the safe deposit boxes because investigators had not proven that the box owners had committed any crimes.
“This notice, put bluntly, provides no factual basis for the seizure of Plaintiffs’ property whatsoever,” stated the judge in his ruling, citing the Fifth Amendment’s protection against the seizure of property without due process.
But the FBI wants to hold onto the fortune it acquired from the raid. Last Friday, prosecutors “filed complaints to confiscate money from more box holders,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Three months after Klausner’s ruling, the government asked a judge to let it keep $154,600 in cash from one box holder and $330,000 from another because a drug-sniffing dog alerted to the money and both owners had “applied unsuccessfully for state licenses to sell marijuana.”
U.S. attorneys suggested that shows “the funds are drug-related,” but as Los Angeles Magazine said, “at least two other vaults were used by licensed marijuana sellers… [so] the scent could have spread from any of the cash in the bank where the government was storing all of its questionably confiscated bonanza.”
The government also wants to keep $960,100 and $519,000 in cash it took from the boxes of two brothers based on its belief that one of them had “been in contact with” suspected armed robbers — an attempt their lawyer calls “an appalling and unconstitutional abuse of power.”
Prosecutors accused the owner of a box holding $900,000 of being “either a top-level drug trafficker or money launderer” because the man bundled his cash in assorted rubber bands, tape-wrapped paper, bank bands, and shopping bags.
The feds were reportedly forced to give back the $57,000 life savings of unemployed chef Joseph Ruiz after insisting there was no way he could have legally saved up that kind of cash. Ruiz proved otherwise.
As Los Angeles Magazine’s Ian Spiegelman reported, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office have denied they “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.” According to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller, the warrants were executed legally “based on allegations of widespread criminal wrongdoing.”
U.S. Private Vaults closed down, and only the owners have been charged and fined for laundering drug money. Not one person involved has been sent to prison.
The FBI’s Laundry List of Malfeasance
While the FBI PR team is stridently maintaining the agency’s innocence, the American people have no reason to believe them. We already know lying to judges isn’t outside the FBI’s wheelhouse after it launched the Russia collusion hoax against President Donald Trump by lying to the FISA court about the credibility of Christopher Steele, author of the debunked Steele dossier.
The FBI, under the purview of Biden-appointed Attorney General Merrick Garland, appears to have entirely discarded all semblance of integrity by now. Last Friday, pro-life activist and Catholic father of seven Mark Houck was arrested by what his wife described as a swarm of 25 to 30 FBI agents — for alleged “FACE Act” violations — at his home while his traumatized children looked on “screaming.”
Houck isn’t the only prominent conservative who has received a personal FBI visit. Last month, the FBI raided the Mar-a-Lago home of former President Donald Trump. The government is also targeting the former president’s advisers and outspoken supporters, such as Rudy Giuliani, Jeff Clark, and Mike Lindell.
Last week, a whistleblower came forward alleging that the FBI is moving its agents off of child sexual abuse cases to instead pursue its Jan. 6 witch hunt. The FBI’s 2022 budget has its largest funding increase request under the category of combatting “domestic terrorism,” a label the left uses to smear its ideological opponents at will. A notable example occurred last year when the FBI launched investigations into “terrorist” parents who express concerns at local school board meetings.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that for years the FBI has been secretly pressuring Americans into signing forms that relinquish their constitutional right to own, purchase, or even use firearms.
The agency also interfered in the 2020 election by preemptively branding the Hunter Biden laptop story as Russian disinformation for Facebook (and likely other platforms) to censor.
It has yet to be seen whether the FBI will return all the savings of the innocent Americans caught up in the U.S. Private Vaults raid, or whether taking money from people with baseless allegations is a new funding tactic for the feds.
Lawyers representing the box holders are insistent this is a case all Americans need to pay attention to. “The government’s theory is that having cash makes you a presumptive criminal,” said Ruiz’s lawyer, “and I think every American should be worried about that.”
Evita Duffy is a staff writer to The Federalist and the co-founder of the Chicago Thinker. She loves the Midwest, lumberjack sports, writing, & her family. Follow her on Twitter at @evitaduffy_1 or contact her at [email protected]