The Volokh Conspiracy

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"FBI Misled Judge in Obtaining Warrant To Seize Hundreds of Safe Deposit Boxes"


I missed this post by Eric Boehm when it went up last month, and, embarrassingly, just found it because the L.A. Times wrote about it Friday. Better later than never, though, I suppose; here's an excerpt, though you should read the whole thing:

The FBI told a federal magistrate judge that it intended to open hundreds of safe deposit boxes seized during a March 2021 raid in order to inventory the items inside—but new evidence shows that federal agents were plotting all along to use the operation as an opportunity to forfeit cash and other valuables.

Federal agents failed to disclose those plans to the federal magistrate judge who issued the warrant for the high-profile raid of U.S. Private Vaults, a private business in Beverly Hills, California, that had been the subject of an FBI investigation since at least 2019. When the raid took place, the FBI also seems to have ignored limitations imposed by the warrant, including an explicit prohibition against using the safe deposit boxes as the basis for further criminal investigations.

Those details regarding the planning and execution of the FBI's raid of U.S. Private Vaults are now out in the open after a different federal judge ruled this week that the government could not keep those details out of the public record.

As Reason has extensively reported, the raid on U.S. Private Vaults resulted in federal agents seizing and attempting to forfeit more than $86 million in cash as well as gold, jewelry, and other valuables from property owners who were suspected of no crimes. Attorneys representing some plaintiffs who are trying to recover their possessions interviewed the FBI agents who planned the raid, but federal prosecutors tried to keep some details of those depositions redacted….

The FBI had been investigating U.S. Private Vaults for more than five years and had previously targeted individuals suspected of using the business to stash the proceeds of criminal activity. In 2019, according to some of the newly unredacted depositions, federal agents shifted their approach and began building a case against the company as a whole.

But the raid that targeted the businesses also swept up the private property of hundreds of people suspected of no crime….