FBI Starts Seizing Safety Deposit Boxes — Is Yours Next?

About 300 Americans are contesting the seizure of their valuables and money by the FBI after the government agency did not give evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the LA Times reported.

The FBI took safe deposit boxes which were rented at the U.S. Private Vaults store in Beverly Hills in March. The agency is trying to seize $86 million in cash and other valuables, like jewelry.

Agents said that criminals were keeping loot inside the boxes, but have yet to give evidence of any wrongdoing for most of the people who rented them, the LA Times said. Prosecutors have thus far outlined 11 people with previous convictions or charges that are pending, out of around 800 box holders, to justify their forfeitures.

“It was a total violation of my freedom and privacy,” Joseph Ruiz, who is an unemployed chef and among the 66 safety box owners who issued court claims reporting that the seizure was unconstitutional, said to the LA Times. “They tried to discredit me.”

The FBI said the $57,000 they stole from Ruiz was too much money for him to have gotten from his income and that a canine had smelled unknown drugs on this cash, the LA Times said. The agency claimed there was “probable cause” that the money was made from trafficking drugs.

Once Ruiz gave records revealing his source for the money was legitimate, the FBI removed the accusation and gave him his money back, the LA Times said.

“You actually do not know anything until that money is brought to a lab,” Mary Cablk, a witness on drug-sniffing dogs, said to the LA Times. She admitted that a dog’s detection of residue “could be valid” and “could be complete bunk.”

U.S. Private Vaults was indicted in Feb. for conspiring with some customers to launder cash, deal drugs and structure transactions to get around government detection, the LA Times said. No people were ever charged and the case has stayed dormant since that time.

Prosecutors allege that the company purposefully marketed itself to emphasize the ability of people to get boxes completely anonymously, according to 15 ongoing lawsuits and other statements issued by the renters, the LA Times said.

Author: Blake Ambrose