Fourth Amendment

The FBI Took Their Safe Deposit Box and Everything Inside It. Two Months Later, They're Still Waiting for It To Be Returned.

"When you've done nothing wrong, you shouldn't be subjected to an investigation," says Paul Snitko, whose box was seized in a March 22 FBI raid of a Beverly Hills business.

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Inside the safe deposit box they rented at U.S. Private Vaults in Beverly Hills, California, Jennifer and Paul Snitko kept the sort of things that any law-abiding American might want to store securely: a will, backup copies of their home computer's hard drive, and some family heirlooms including jewelry, a fancy watch, and a class ring.

The Snitkos are not criminals. They've not been charged with any crimes. During his career as an aerospace engineer, Paul even held several security clearances.

But since March 22, they've been treated like criminals. The Snitkos' valuables have been in the possession of federal prosecutors following an FBI raid that resulted in hundreds of safe deposit boxes being seized—despite the fact that the warrant authorizing the raid, as Reason previously reported, explicitly forbade federal agents from conducting "a criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safe-deposit boxes."

But the FBI did not merely seize the safe deposit boxes housed at U.S. Private Vaults. Federal agents then proceeded to search each box, even brazenly tearing open sealed envelopes and rummaging through the belongings found inside. More than two months after the raid at U.S. Private Vaults, the Snitkos and other innocent people who had their stuff taken have no idea when their valuables might be returned.

"When you've done nothing wrong, you shouldn't be subjected to an investigation," says Paul Snitko. "That the federal government broke open our safety deposit box was shocking and that we have no idea when we will get our property back is infuriating."

On Friday, just hours after the Snitkos filed a lawsuit—with help from the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian law firm—challenging what they say was the FBI's unlawful seizure of their safe deposit box, they finally got some good news. Sort of. According to IJ, the couple received a phone call from the FBI informing them that they would have their property returned in "about two to three weeks from now."

As of Friday afternoon, two other clients represented in the same lawsuit have not received similar phone calls.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, joins several other legal actions already launched on behalf of anonymous individuals whose property was similarly caught up in the FBI raid of U.S. Private Vaults. Federal prosecutors have charged U.S. Private Vaults with several crimes including conspiracy to commit money laundering and, earlier this week, filed forfeiture motions against roughly 400 of the nearly 1,000 safe deposit boxes seized in the raid.

As Reason previously reported, the unsealed warrant authorizing the raid of U.S. Private Vaults granted the FBI permission to seize the business's computers, money counters, security cameras, and "nests" of safe deposit boxes—the large steel frames that effectively act as bookshelves for the boxes themselves. However, FBI procedure required federal agents to take the safe deposit boxes into custody as well.

What happened after that is what's truly enraging about the situation. Federal agents were supposed to identify the boxes' owners so property taken in the raid could be returned. In many cases, that was as easy as checking the documents that were taped to the tops of the boxes—but, instead, legal filings show that investigators brazenly rifled through the boxes.

Like other victims of the raid, the Snitkos also had identifying information attached to the lid of their safe deposit box. Opening the box, their lawsuit argues, is a clear violation of their Fourth Amendment rights, while the FBI's continued retention of their property represents both Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment violations.

"The government's dragnet search of innocent peoples' private security boxes is the most outrageous Fourth Amendment abuse that the Institute for Justice has ever seen," says Robert Frommer, a senior attorney with IJ. "It is like the government breaking into every apartment in a building because the landlord was dealing drugs in the lobby."

NEXT: Baton Rouge Cops Will Not Face Disciplinary Charges for Strip-Searching a Minor in Public

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43 responses to “The FBI Took Their Safe Deposit Box and Everything Inside It. Two Months Later, They're Still Waiting for It To Be Returned.

  1. Seems like the feds were too lazy to do the job right, and decided it’d be easier to just treat people who might need something out of their box, like unfortunate collateral damage. Heck, they have qualified immunity. I do hope legislators pass laws allowing people to sue the agency or department that violated their rights, if they’re going to keep qualified immunity. At least then, they might do their jobs right and at least consider avoiding harming innocent people.

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  2. “It is like the government breaking into every apartment in a building because the landlord was dealing drugs in the lobby.”

    Or one of your neighbors once owned a firearm so they will do checks on everyone – for safety.

    Or your IRA/401k custodian gets in trouble, and maybe they just have to confiscate the assets – for safe keeping.

    Stuff that jeff and Tony would love to see.

  3. They weren’t charged with anything, so no evidence to exclude. They’ll get your stuff back eventually (well, most of it. Anything that’s broken or missing was obviously broken or missing when the “inspected” the box). No harm-no foul, really. What you gonna do? Sue the bastards for damages? Just fugetaboutit.

    1. OBL, is that you? Really, not one of your better efforts.

  4. The FBI is a very very sick institution. I can’t even imagine what kind of a twisted person it would take to do something like that especially in the name of the law. People wonder why I’m a misanthrope.

    1. I think your terminology is incorrect. Misinthrops hate people, there isn’t a single human that works at the fbi

      1. speaking of out of control agencies…
        i once went to the batf booth at the shot show and out loud told the whole lot they were traitors to our nation.

        U shoulda seen their faces!

        1. Do BATF minions take an oath of office that requires them to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution?

          -jcr

    2. J. Edgar Hoover was a paranoid and a degenerate. A fish rots from the head.

      -jcr

  5. “When you’ve done nothing wrong, you shouldn’t be subjected to an investigation,” says Paul Snitko, whose box was seized in a March 22 FBI raid of a Beverly Hills business.

    Oh, that’s cute. But I suppose we can expect such naivite from a Beverly Hills resident.

    1. White Privilege.

    2. If you haven’t done anything wrong, why were you hiding stuff in the safe deposit box. Hmm?

  6. The text of the 4th Amendment:

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    Seems like time for some federal civil rights charges against the agents. USC 242 Title 18. 10 years in the federal pen.

    People’s papers and effects were seized. The warrant showed neither probable cause nor described what was to be seized.

  7. But the Top Men at the FBI are Paragons of Truth and Justice who rightfully went after Bad Orange Man who, it is known, was Colluding with Russia to Steal Elections.

    How could they possibly allow this sort of behavior by their underlings to go on unaddressed? Where is the disconnect?

    Surely this must be a case of the fish rotting from the tail up!

    1. The election was stolen, I read all about it in Hillary’s book. She knows Donald knows he stole it, it’s just not fair. Even four years later, you’ve gotta admit, it was stolen and illigitame. Definitely plenty of evidence outline in Hillary’s book. The 2020 election was pure as Angeles though, you know. I’m glad America got it’s act together and we succeeded despite the thousands of armed Trump mercinaries who posed a totally existential threat to our entire nation.

    2. IIRC Jacob Sullum made the libertarian case for an independent deep state a few years back because Orange Man was so bad that our beloved democratic institutions simply weren’t up to the task of controlling his authoritarian regime. Reason gets what it wants and then bitches about the consequences. Go figure.

      1. thats the natural result of Making Shit Up….

        LoL

        The Left Fling Feces then cry when it lands on them

  8. And by the way, IJ and Rand Paul have done more for liberty in the last five weeks than Reason has done in the last 5 years. Remember that next time they come looking for contributions.

    1. while genuflecting, remember, Rand Paul was an Obama illegal alien shill.

      Rand is no Ron.

      1. Whaa?

  9. seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” ( https://wapexclusive.com/ )

    Seems like time for some federal civil rights charges against the agents. USC 242 Title 18. 10 years in the federal pen.

    People’s papers and effects were seized. The warrant showed neither probable cause nor described what was to be seized.

  10. ” “When you’ve done nothing wrong, you shouldn’t be subjected to an investigation,” says Paul Snitko. ”

    How are they going to know if you have or haven’t done anything wrong without an investigation? And how can an investigation take place without looking at your stuff?

    See how easy it is to get caught up in “their” logic?

    1. to
      “If you have nothing to hide . . . ”
      will now be added
      “If you needed it, why was it in a safe deposit box?”

  11. ” “The government’s dragnet search of innocent peoples’ private security boxes is the most outrageous Fourth Amendment abuse that the Institute for Justice has ever seen,” says Robert Frommer, a senior attorney with IJ.”

    The problem is the 4th Amendment. Worst amendment ever. You’d think those revered Founding Fathers could have done a better job. They must have been drinking themselves under the table the night before they drafted this piece of shit. The problem? This word: ‘unreasonable’. Dumb-ass motherfuckers, THEY ALL KNEW that the History of Power is all about taking it from the People and concentrating it into the hand of the Few.

    It’s been said that a thousand Atta-Boys are washed away by one Aw Shit. Definitely applies here.

  12. Sounds to me that the FBI were trying to steal the contents of the boxes. No?

    1. The FBI has already stolen the boxes. Now they’re just hoping that they can stall the rightful owners long enough that some of them will give up and let them keep the loot.

      -jcr

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  14. They need to quit letting themselves be jerked around and file criminal charges against the thieving scumbags.

    -jcr

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  16. But but but how can ‘reason’ not like the FBI? That’s the agency all up in the Russia investigation! Muh fake evidence! Muh corrupt FISA warrant! Muh bent English spy! Muh K Street!

  17. Asset forfeiture, tax liens trampling the 4th and 5th Amendments for safe deposit box, bank and brokerage account looting by federal agents were THE primary causes of the crashes of 1920, 1929, 1987 and 2008. Fractional reserve banking fails when federal agents turn burglar and stampede people into emptying their accounts. Simple multiplier effect in action–the thing economists are intimidated into ignoring.

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