Federal Courts

Judge Orders FBI To Halt Forfeiture of Cash, Jewelry From Safe Deposit Boxes

The FBI provided "no factual basis for the seizure," Judge R. Gary Klausner wrote.

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A federal judge has ordered the FBI to halt its attempted forfeiture of the contents of 369 safe deposit boxes after finding that law enforcement has provided "no factual basis" for the seizures.

The temporary injunction, issued Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner, is the latest blow to the FBI's attempt to seize millions of dollars in cash, jewelry, and other valuables from the safe deposit boxes once held at U.S. Private Vaults in Beverly Hills, California. When the FBI raided the facility on March 22, agents were armed with a warrant that explicitly forbade them from seizing the contents of the safe deposit boxes kept there. But the FBI took them into custody anyway, and in mid-May filed administrative forfeiture proceedings against 369 of the nearly 800 boxes seized—including more than $85 million in cash and other valuables.

The FBI contends that the contents of those boxes are the ill-gotten gains of criminal activity. Plaintiffs in the case say they've been unfairly targeted by an unlawful search and seizure that violated their Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights.

Klausner sided with the box owners on Tuesday, writing that the FBI failed to respect due process by seizing the contents of safe deposit boxes without even identifying which laws the owners supposedly broke. Instead, the FBI has tried to claim a wide range of different criminal acts, including everything from forgery to counterfeiting and smuggling to bank fraud, in order to take everything in one fell swoop.

"This list of purported statutory bases for forfeiture is anything but specific," writes Klausner, noting that the FBI cited a portion of the U.S. criminal code that includes 35 different sections. "This notice, put bluntly, provides no factual basis for the seizure of Plaintiffs' property whatsoever."

None of U.S. Private Vaults' clients have been charged with any crimes, even though the FBI has argued in court documents that "the majority of the box-holders are criminals who used USPV's anonymity to hide their ill-gotten wealth." The FBI has returned the contents from some of the seized safe deposit boxes, but only after brazenly rifling through private documents and potentially misplacing some box-holders' valuables in an apparent attempt to find evidence of criminal activity.

"Hundreds of innocent people have had their lives turned upside down by the government's $85 million cash grab," says Robert Frommer, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian law firm that is representing the four plaintiffs at the center of Tuesday's injunction. "This order squarely rejects the government's 'anemic notices' as an unconstitutional attempt to take box holders' property for no good reason."

Even though Tuesday's injunction applies directly to only four of the victims of the FBI's raid, it effectively applies to everyone caught up in the forfeiture mess, according to IJ.

"Judge Klausner's ruling is just another nail in the coffin of this ill-conceived administrative forfeiture gambit," Benjamin Gluck, a California attorney who is representing several of the other people caught up in the FBI's raid, tells Reason. "The government cannot proceed because it cannot even articulate, much less prove, why these people's property should be forfeited."

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  1. And the FBI officers that broke the law were all held accountable, right?

    1. No; they invoked the well known “FYTW” clause.

      1. Indeed, the fbi is free to keep fucking you with impunity until a judge orders them to stop. These are the rules.

        1. And even then it’s only even money they will stop.

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  2. “…the FBI failed to respect due process by seizing the contents of safe deposit boxes without even identifying which laws the owners supposedly broke. Instead, the FBI has tried to claim a wide range of different criminal acts, including everything from forgery to counterfeiting and smuggling to bank fraud, in order to take everything in one fell swoop.”

    Like a general warrant: “Let’s just take a look and see what we find here; I’m sure there must be something.”

    1. “Like a general warrant: “Let’s just take a look and see what we find here; I’m sure there must be something.””

      Three years and they didn’t so much as get Trump on a jay-walking charge!
      I’m not that clean.

      1. To be fair, they couldn’t get Michael Jackson on anything either.

        1. he couldnt molest children with his hands down his pants!

          Beat it! Beat it….

  3. “Judge Orders FBI To Halt Forfeiture of Cash, Jewelry From Safe Deposit Boxes”

    But they get to keep what they already stole?

    1. Of course. There’s no court ruling saying that police officers aren’t allowed to steal stuff from safety deposit boxes in Beverly Hills, California between the dates of March 21st and March 23rd. They had no way of knowing that wouldn’t be allowed.

      1. Yup. Qualified immunity granted.

  4. lol that’ll stop ’em

    1. Halt or I shall say “halt” again.
      When the people in charge of enforcing the law stop abiding by the law, it’s very difficult to rein them in. Who is going to enforce on the FBI, even when they brazenly violate judicial orders and constitutional law?

      1. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        1. Ego custodiet, motherfuckers.

          1. Custodia mea cervisia
            hoc frigus erit

            1. You’re… taking a beer into custody?

              Me too!

              (Look, I’ll readily admit that I don’t actually know Latin… 😉 )

          2. Semper fidele tyranosauras.
            Always faithful terrible lizard

  5. Hey we finally got a name for the judge involved in this crime. He wouldn’t be the same judge who signed off on the confiscation of the frame that held the safe deposit boxes would he? You know, the bullshit that the warrant said was perfectly ok to seize, thus leaving the fbi in such a gratuitous bind of being apprehensive to leave opened and unprotected safe deposit boxes on the goddamn floor?

    Pray, was it that judge?

    1. It does not appear to be the same judge. The unsealed warrant from one of the linked previous Reason articles looks like it was signed by a judge named Steve Kim.

      https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20700649-21-notice-of-motion-and-motion-for-return-of-property-pursuant-to-fed-r-crim-p-41g#document/p29

    2. This is the judge who has been in the news for rejecting the women’s soccer team case over pay disparities.

      He seems like one of the good ones.

  6. The judge has made his ruling. Now let’s see him enforce it.

  7. A.C.A.T.
    All
    Cops
    Are
    Tax-Collectors

  8. It seems kinda ridiculous. Like, for individuals, $85M isn’t small, but for the feds it isn’t even a drop in the ocean. It’s just pocket change there.

    1. Its CV building for some Administrator…” Xx dollars were seized during my tenure..see how succesful I was?”

    2. That comes out to about 1% of the fbi budget

    3. It’s not the money. It’s the boner they get from doing it.

      1. Again weird, because $85 million should buy something *much* larger than that stiff half pinkie FBI agents manage.

  9. “When the FBI raided the facility on March 22, agents were armed with a warrant that explicitly forbade them from seizing the contents of the safe deposit boxes kept there. But the FBI took them into custody anyway,”

    Did I miss the part where all involved FBI agents are in jail for contempt of court?
    Didn’t think so.

    1. Their internal policy prohibits them from leaving safe deposit boxes unattended and lying on the floor, which is why they seized a metal frame that they had absolutely no legitimate interest in.

      Why does their internal policy trump very clear language in the search warrant? Because fuck you, that’s why.

      1. I’d really like to see that question asked in court. Of course someone in the gallery would stand up, shoot the testifying witness, the lawyer asking the question and then ‘magically’ escape, thereby ensuring that no answer can ever be given.

  10. Pretty clear now the DoJ FBI Ministry of Love is going to be doing a lot more with dems and RINOs in control again.

  11. Judge: On what grounds do you seek to confiscate this property.
    FBI: Shiny!!!!

    1. best comment.

      1. I was thinking more along the lines of when Bilbo is talking to Frodo (in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings”, not the book) and does a quick change into and out of Gollum whilst trying to grab the ring.

  12. an unconstitutional attempt to take box holders’ property for no good reason.”

    Are you new here? Of course they had millions of good reasons

  13. Anyone seen Moving Violations? movie
    .

    Yeah thats it.

    The Thin BLUE LIE lining its pockets.

  14. Go, go, Institute for Justice! Keep kicking ass!

    1. Amen, brother. Best charitable contribution any American can make.

  15. Which one is this, is it Fidelity, Bravery or Integrity?

  16. “Judge Klausner’s ruling is just another nail in the coffin of this ill-conceived administrative forfeiture gambit”

    What coffin. The FBI originally was not supposed to seize the boxes, not they can’t retain the boxes. The FBI has neither gained nor lost anything. It’s a wash. Next time, they will hope for a more “flexible” judge, so this will have no impact on their procedures going forward.

    1. It’s clear that this ruling is only thwarting ‘this’ ill-conceived administrative forfeiture gambit.’ The next one will be much better conceived and much more secret.

      Civil asset forfeiture could be cured by requiring criminal conviction of charges related to the property in question. And not criminal conviction of the property.

  17. Unless a federal agent goes to jail, they won’t hesitate to do the same thing again next week.

    1. Bingo, but they won’t. I doubt anyone will even get demoted.

  18. “When the FBI raided the facility on March 22, agents were armed with a warrant that explicitly forbade them from seizing the contents of the safe deposit boxes kept there.”

    I would note here that the warrant only enjoined a “criminal search” of the boxes. What the FBI did in seizing and searching the boxes was an “administrative search” to identify the owners and inventory the contents for safekeeping until they could be returned to the owners. So the letter of the warrant was not violated.

    Its a fine point but its crap like that will keep any of the FBI agents from getting contempt of court charges against them. Its also a sure bet they knew that going in before they raided the place.

    This kind of shit has to stop. Judges are complicit in this bullshit when they sign these kind of warrants.

    1. The names of the owners of the boxes was written on the top of each box. There was no need to go though the box. Also the warrant did forbid them form seizing any of the boxes.

      1. No, it enjoined “Criminal” search and seizure. Learn the difference between that and “Aministrative”.

  19. You’d thin that Hoover still ran the FBI, while wearing ball gowns.

  20. I think it’s despicable when people refer to the FBI as a group of criminals.

    When criminals are caught breaking the law, they’re punished for it.

  21. The thing is why FBI! what the role of the FBI of Cash, Jewelry From Safe Deposit Boxeshttps://krmangalam.com/

  22. Justice would be to penalize the FBI leadership personally by seizing their personal property and holding it without identifying or charging them with a crime.

    The entire basis of justifying the raid and retaining the property should be laughed out of court. The FBI is so obviously nefarious that their justifications ring hollow.

    For any type of forfeiture to be justified, it would need to be after due process was served where the suspect was charged, found guilty and sentenced.

    Additionally there should be the burden of proof place on the government to prove that the specific property was the result is illicit gains.

    Only then should the specific property be forfeited and the specific property SHOULD NOT become the property of the Government, but rather be gifted or sold and gifted to make whole any victims of the crime.

    If there isn’t any victims, then the crime probably shouldn’t be a crime in the first place, but regardless the proceeds should be distributed to charities that are closely related to helping victims of similar crimes.

  23. The FBI is the most successful anti-American terror organization in history.

    It has been successfully held accountable only once.

  24. Mulder and Scully have been vewy busy.
    Otherwise, how else would you expect a retiring FBI agent to be able to afford a condo in Miami.
    Hopefully some of them bought apartments in the Champlain.
    The FBI should have been disbanded decades ago.

  25. Wild and crazy idea; the FBI can only investigate. No arms, no arrest power, no nothing like that. If they need an arrest, they can ask the federal marshal service to do it. Same thing for serving warrants. Oh, yeah, and cut the budget by 1/3 since they don’t need to do (or train for) any of that stuff any more.

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