(PresidentialHill.com)- A federal judge was misled by the FBI and U.S. Attorney General’s office before signing off on a search warrant that led to the seizure of more than $86 million, according to Breitbart.
The FBI allegedly suspected criminal activity at U.S. Private Vaults, a store in Beverly Hills that has more than 1,000 private safe-deposit boxes, because patrons would arrive in cars with out-of-state plates. An investigation was opened by the FBI after law enforcement and federal agents reportedly saw drug dealers and buyers walking in and out of the store.
FBI agent Lynne Zellhart wrote that those who are anonymously storing their wealth are trying to hide from the DEA, IRS or other creditors. But the reason for their suspicion was not backed by any evidence. The FBI then misled the United States Magistrate Judge Steve Kim when they did the opposite of what the affidavit read and what the judge explicitly gave them permission to do.
According to assistant U.S. attorney Andrew Brown, the warrant was for the seizure of the nests of the boxes, not the contents. Judge Kim then explicitly wrote in the warrant, “This warrant does not authorize a criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safety deposit boxes.”
Unsealed records show that the FBI planned to seize the contents of the boxes the entire time. As the Los Angeles Times writes,
“By the time Kim got the warrant request, the FBI had been preparing an enormous forfeiture operation for at least six months, according to Jessie Murray, the chief of the FBI’s asset forfeiture unit in Los Angeles.
“In the summer of 2020, she testified, Matthew Moon, then one of the highest-ranking FBI agents in Los Angeles, asked her if her team “was capable of handling a possible large-scale seizure” of safe-deposit boxes at U.S. Private Vaults.”
The FBI has reportedly kept over $86 million in cash, rare coins, gold, silver, and luxury jewelry items, while maintaining that they did not mislead the judge or his search warrant limits.
Federal prosecutors also claim that the FBI did not have to tell the judge “how later actions, such as criminal investigations against boxholders or forfeiture of box contents, would play out.”
A class-action lawsuit has now been filed by box holders against the FBI, alleging that the federal agency violated their constitutional rights.
“The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done,” wrote a lawyer representing the nearly 400 box holders in the lawsuit. “That’s why the warrant application did not even attempt to argue there was probable cause to seize and forfeit box renters’ property.”
The FBI reportedly posted a sign on the store front encouraging customers to come in and reclaim their items, but according to one customer trying to do so, the FBI proceeded to investigate them. The U.S. Attorney’s office did not prosecute the company’s owners but ordered the business to pay a $1.1 million fine, with which prosecutors admit they have no means to pay it.