- The owners of Cartier bracelets, Rolex watches and their lifesavings in cash are fighting back against the FBI after they were seized from their safety deposit boxes
- The goods were seized in a raid on a safety deposit box business in Beverly Hills which authorities say was a front for money laundering in March 2021
- The renters argue the government violated their Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections by seizing their property
The owners of Cartier bracelets, Rolex watches and gold bars are suing the FBI from seizing their property from their safety deposit boxes and refusing to give it back.
Around $86 million in cash as well as a trove of jewelry and other valuables were seized in an FBI raid on a safety deposit box business in Beverly Hills in March 2021.
The business was accused of money laundering and a judge granted the FBI a search warrant.
Agents seized around 1,400 safe deposit boxes from US Private Vaults, that was regularly used by ‘unsavory characters to store criminal proceeds’ according to court documents.
However, depositors who have not been accused or charged with any crime had their lifesavings and valuable possessions retained under the ‘administrative forfeiture proceedings’, Fox News reported.
Security box renter Linda Martin (pictured) is one of the plaintiff’s in the case against the government
Civil asset forfeiture allows the government to seize property and cash from individuals believed to be linked to a crime without ever charging the owner.
U.S. Private Vaults eventually pleaded guilty to money laundering, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it had not filed any other criminal charges.
A spokesperson on Thursday declined to comment on the case.
Now a group of deposit box renters who have had their assets taken but not been charged have filed a class action lawsuit against the government.
The renters argue the government violated their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure and their Fifth Amendment protection from having private property taken without compensation.
‘I felt misled, I felt angry, I’m still angry’ box renter Linda Martin told Fox News.
‘They didn’t tell us why they took our money, they haven’t told us why as of yet’ she added.
‘It’s been just a long journey to get accountability for this from the government,’ said another of the plaintiff’s, Travis May, after Thursday’s hearing.
Paul and Jennifer Snitko (pictured) are among those whose assets were seized without notice by the FBI
Attorney Rob Johnson (pictured) from the Institute for Justice is leading the class action lawsuit against the government
‘Obviously, the journey is not over. But today felt very good to have to see that those concerns are being taken seriously’ he explained.
The case will be decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court sided with the FBI last year.
‘I think the public sees this and recognizes that this is just a total abuse of people’s constitutional rights,’ attorney Rob Johnson from the Institute for Justice said on Thursday.
During Thursday’s court appearance, Victor Rodgers argued on behalf of the government that the FBI went above and beyond to reunite customers with their property by posting a notice on the window of USPV.
‘All they had to do was contact the FBI,’ Rodgers said.
The FBI declined to comment on pending litigation.
The agency calls forfeiture an important tool for ‘disrupting and dismantling criminal and terrorist organizations and punishing criminals’ as well as ‘compensating victims and protecting communities.’
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