According to the Los Angeles Times, the FBI and a U.S. attorney’s office obtained a warrant allowing them to access some 1,400 safe-deposit boxes. However, it has now emerged that the warrant was based on a lie.
The Times cited newly unsealed court documents showing that FBI agents rifled through personal belongings stored at a U.S. Private Vaults location in Beverly Hills.
Agents did not disclose
“Agents took photos and videos of pay stubs, password lists, credit cards, a prenuptial agreement, immigration and vaccination records, bank statements, heirlooms and a will, court records show,” the paper noted.
What’s more, the agents obtained the warrant by leaving out critical information when filed a request for it with Magistrate Judge Steve Kim.
Specifically, they did not mention the fact that they planned to permanently confiscate every item or store of cash worth at least $5,000.
Agents ultimately seized some $86 million worth of assets from unknown box holders that it contended were linked to unspecified crimes.
This massive haul resulted in a class action lawsuit by the box holders. While the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles attempted to have documents relating to the case kept secret, the presiding judge refused.
Government opened boxes
Four hundred of the 1,400 box holders are represented by lawyer Robert Frommer, who says the FBI operated blindly.
“The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done,” the Times quoted Frommer as saying in a court filing.
“That’s why the warrant application did not even attempt to argue there was probable cause to seize and forfeit box renters’ property,” he added.
However, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller denied that there had been any malfeasance on the part of her agency and insisted the warrant was “based on allegations of widespread criminal wrongdoing.”
“At no time was a magistrate misled as to the probable cause used to obtain the warrants,” she insisted while pointing out that U.S. Private Vaults has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money.