FBI agents got their hats handed to them by a federal judge last week. It was a big win against one of the Bureau’s recent outrages over civil asset forfeiture. The victim of the FBI’s attempt to steal the contents of his safe deposit box will get his day in court. The government’s motion to dismiss the case and control the loot was tossed out, and the FBI was told it must defend itself at trial.
The FBI raided U.S. Private Vaults in Beverly Hills on March 22, serving a warrant, which pertained to an ongoing criminal case against the owners of the vault company. There was no crime alleged against any of the box owners, then or now. But, as Reason reports, the warrant let them “seize property belonging to the company as part of a criminal investigation — and even though the warrant explicitly exempted the safe-deposit boxes in the company’s vaults, they were taken too. More than 800 were seized.”
Can They Do Anything Right?
Since the raid, the FBI seems to have reacted in the worst possible way at every turn. Reason has been covering the story with its usual thoroughness, and from early on. To understand what’s going on, just read a smattering of the headlines from Reason’s ongoing stories:
The FBI Took Their Safe Deposit Box and Everything Inside It. Two Months Later, They’re Still Waiting for It to Be Returned
The FBI Seized Heirlooms, Coins, and Cash From Hundreds of Safe Deposit Boxes in Beverly Hills, Despite Knowing ‘Some’ Belonged to ‘Honest Citizens’
Judge Orders FBI to Halt Forfeiture of Cash, Jewelry From Safe Deposit Boxes
See the FBI Dig Through an Innocent Woman’s Safe Deposit Box
The recent ruling is about box-owner anonymity. These vaults provide anonymity, like a Swiss bank account in deposit box form. The Feds want to change that in an attempt to catch the box-holders who may be criminals, for example on tax issues or something more serious. The problem is they want to do so absent any cause. The judge wrote: “Because the Government has not come forth with anything more than pure conjecture that Plaintiff might have unlawfully possessed the items seized from box number 904, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s interest in anonymity outweighs any prejudice to the Government.”
Reason has gone so far as to ask the court to join the case. It wrote:
“Reason intends to continue reporting on the Government’s seizure of property from customers of U.S. Private Vaults and asserts a First Amendment right to review and inform the public about the content of the warrant material …”
This case is sure to develop interest as the FBI’s intransigence in the face of injustice continues to shock and amaze Americans. LN will keep you posted.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.