Here is an interesting case that doesn’t quite pass the smell test. I would think that with all the FBI has to do now with investigating Trump and the rest of the Trumpsters in America, a little bit of “avoiding currency reporting requirements” would not be high on the list. But what the heck. The FBI grows stronger every day and isn’t that the point of this? Just how far can and will they go?
In a case that’s already sparked one lawsuit, a Beverly Hills strip mall business which rents private, anonymous safe deposit boxes was raided by the FBI last month – at which time the agency conducted a blanket seizure of hundreds of customers’ belongings.
To retrieve their valuables, customers will need to “identify themselves and subject themselves to an investigation to verify their legal ownership,” according to the Los Angeles Times, which noted that one customer has already gone to court claiming that the government overreached by confiscating the contents of every security box.
The FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency took five days to go through and process all the boxes after the raid began on March 22, according to court documents. US prosecutors argued on Friday that while the original warrant remains under seal, the magistrate judge who approved it thought that the sweeping seizures were appropriate.
“The government seized the nests of safety deposit boxes because there was overwhelming evidence that USPV was a criminal business that conspired with its criminal clients to distribute drugs, launder money, and structure transactions to avoid currency reporting requirements, among other offenses,” prosecutors claimed in papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
The indictment was unsealed on Friday – just one hour before a court-issued deadline to respond to a lawsuit brought by a US Private Vaults customers who alleged that the blanket seizure was unconstitutional.
The unnamed customer, listed in court papers as John Doe, said the search warrant should not have authorized seizure of the jewelry, currency and bullion that he kept in his three boxes at U.S. Private Vaults, because there was no probable cause to suspect the person committed a crime.
“Just as the tenant of each apartment controls that space and therefore has a reasonable expectation of privacy in it, each of the hundreds of renters of safety deposit boxes … has a separate reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her separately controlled box or boxes,” the person’s attorney, Benjamin N. Gluck, wrote in the complaint. –Los Angeles Times
The customer seeks to stop the FBI from requiring anonymous customers to reveal themselves and undergo an investigation to verify legal ownership of their valuables – with attorney Benjamin Gluck arguing that the government is holding his client’s goods “hostage” until he identifies himself. Gluck pointed to a statement by assistant US Attorney Andrew Brown describing the procedure for retrieving valuables.
“Though Mr. Brown perhaps deserves credit for his candor, his announced plan is grossly improper and manifestly unconstitutional,” wrote Gluck, noting that Brown had previously conceded in court papers that some US Private Vaults customers were “honest citizens to whom the government wishes to return their property.”
“But the majority of the box holders are criminals who used USPV’s anonymity to hide their ill-gotten wealth,” he wrote. “To distinguish between honest and criminal customers, the government must examine the specific facts of each box and each claim, precisely what the anonymous plaintiff wants to prevent by refusing to disclose not only his identity, but even the specific boxes he claims are his.”