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FBI Accused Of Keeping $86 Million In Seized Cash And Jewellery After Raid

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FBI Accused Of Keeping $86 Million In Seized Cash And Jewellery After Raid

The FBI is currently in a tussle to keep hold of $86 million (£60m) in cash and millions more in jewellery that was confiscated from a safety deposit box business in California they believed was being used by criminals.

The FBI filed an indictment on 9 March that alleged that US Private Vaults and customers using the service were laundering money, as well as letting drug dealers keep fentanyl - synthetic opioids - as well as guns and money in the boxes.

Alongside the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI raided their Beverly Hills property on 22 March, seizing the contents of all the boxes having been granted a warrant to do so.

While they did manage to find guns, drugs, and heaps of cash in some of the boxes, many of those who had safety deposit boxes with the company say their things were seized even though they'd done nothing wrong.

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Credit: Institute for Justice
Credit: Institute for Justice

The US Private Vault customers have now filed a class action lawsuit against the FBI in the hope of getting the contents of their boxes back.

The suit claims lots of the things in the boxes are of great sentimental value and are not linked to any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors argue otherwise, and have said the FBI is justified in keeping the contents, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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Joseph Ruiz, 47, was one of those with savings in the US Private Vaults, claiming that his distrust for banks led him to deposit $57,000 (£40,000) in there.

Now, that money is with the FBI.

He said: "They just kind of stole my money,

"I'm made out to be a criminal, and I didn't do anything. I'm a law-abiding citizen,"

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Joseph Ruiz. Credit: Institute for Justice
Joseph Ruiz. Credit: Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice, an organisation that files lawsuits in relation to constitutional rights, said that the Bureau has 'baselessly alleged that it should be forfeited to the government'.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson from the US Attorney's office in LA, said the FBI had not been playing fast and loose with forfeiture laws in order to keep the contents of the boxes.

He said: "We have some basis to believe that the items are related to criminal activity."

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The FBI is also in the process of returning some of the property found in the boxes.

Following the raid, a sign was placed on the front of the US Private Vaults telling customers to head to an FBI website to claim for their things.

US Private Vaults - it is claimed - had advertised itself as a 100 percent anonymous and secure company, even claiming they didn't need to know names and social security numbers from customers.

In a video shared in 2012, President Steven Gregory said: "Unlike a bank we don't require our customers to show photo ID or provide a Social Security number as a requirement for renting a box.

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"We identify our clients through an iris scan and a palm geometry scan."

The FBI claim form. Credit: FBI
The FBI claim form. Credit: FBI

It is also alleged they advertised by saying 'we don't even want to know your name'.

Prosecutors have also claimed one of the managers at US Private Vaults dealt cocaine and marijuana, and that the company was attempting to launder money.

A federal grand jury charged US Private Vaults with three counts, one of conspiracy to launder money, another of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and a third of conspiracy to structure transactions.

It did not name anyone thought to be behind the illegality and it's not known whether they'll face independent criminal charges.

LADbible has contacted US Private Vaults and the FBI for comment.

Featured Image Credit: Institute For Justice

Topics: Money, US News, crime, Drugs, FBI, Weird

Tom Wood
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