FBI found $1m in cash, drugs and guns at Beverly Hills safety deposit box business ‘used by criminals’ – and left note telling owners to ‘contact agents’ to get it back
Newly unsealed indictment from March 9 alleges that U.S. Private Vaults and its customers were laundering money
Feds beginning Mar 22, conducted a three-day raid on the Beverly Hills safety deposit box business after they said it was being ‘used by criminals’
Prosecutors also allege the company was letting drug dealers store fentanyl, guns and cash in boxes and claimed the business marketed itself to crooks
Prosecutors also allege the owner and employees of the company were involved in drug sales that took place at the business and helped customers convert cash into gold in amounts that would avoid suspicion
Items found in customers deposit boxes include $1m in cash in one box, drugs and guns in boxes ‘
Combined team of the FBI and DEA seized the contents of every single box on on March 22 after being granted a warrant, which remains sealed
A sign has been taped to the front door telling customers they can file claims to get their possessions back on the FBI’s website
The legality of the seizure has already sparked a contentious court battle
Calling the search and seizure as ‘unconstitional,’ one unnamed customer has claimed that law enforcement seized the contents of the boxes ‘without showing why it suspected each person of committing crimes’
U.S. federal agents raided a Los Angeles anonymous safety deposit box business over alleged criminal activity, prompting customers to call the seizures ‘unconstitutional,’ it has been revealed.
A newly unsealed indictment from March 9 alleges that U.S. Private Vaults which located in Beverly Hills, and its customers were laundering money and letting drug dealers store fentanyl, guns and cash in the boxes and claimed the business marketed itself to crooks.
The U.S. attorney for Los Angeles accused U.S. Private Vaults of marketing itself deliberately to attract criminals, saying it brazenly promoted itself as a place customers could store valuables with confidence that tax authorities would be hard-pressed to learn their identities or what was stored in their locked boxes. To access the facility, customers needed no identification; it took just an eye and hand scan to unlock the door.
“We don’t even want to know your name,” it advertised, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also allege that an owner and employees of the company were involved in drug sales that took place at the business and helped customers convert cash into gold in amounts that would avoid suspicion.
Agents with the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency seized the contents of every single box on on March 22 after being granted a warrant, which remains sealed. During the raid, agents seized an ‘unspecified number of weapons’ as well as fentanyl, OxyContin and ‘huge stacks of $100 bills’ sniffed out by drug dogs. One box reportedly contained a $1 million in cash.
A sign has been taped to the front door telling customers ‘to initiate a claim for your U.S. Private Vaults box’ on the FBI’s website: ‘Please go to the following link to initiate a claim for your US Private Vaults box,’ the sign notes.
The form on the FBI’s website reads: ‘To make a claim for property stored at U.S. Private Vaults in Beverly Hills, California, please provide the following information. An FBI agent will contact you for additional details.’
Prosecutors claimed that U.S. Private Vaults boasted that its anonymous boxes were more secure than banks from federal agencies, according to the indictment.
‘Unlike traditional bank deposit boxes, US Private Vaults are 100 percent private, allowing your identity to remain completely anonymous,’ an advertisement for the company on YouTube claims.
The company posted another video to YouTube in 2012 that identifies its president as a Steven Gregory.
‘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,’ Gregory says in the video.
‘We identify our clients through an iris scan and a palm geometry scan.
According to the indictment, the company had also allegedly advertised: ‘We don’t even want to know your name’ and claimed that it did not require customer information that ‘can be easily accessed by government agencies (such as the IRS).’
A 10-inch by 10-inch box at U.S. Private Vaults rents annually for $2,000 and the company noted on its website that it accepts bitcoin. The cheapest box for $700 is only 3-inches by 5-inches.
The company even allegedly issued safety deposit box keys that ‘were unmarked and unnumbered so that law enforcement could not determine that the keys unlocked safety deposit boxes at USPV,’ the indictment reads. Prosecutors claimed that employees would even tip off customers if law enforcement officers were seen in the area.
According to The Los Angeles Times, customers would access the business with an eye and hand scan to unlock the door.
A manager at U.S. Private Vaults dealt marijuana and cocaine, and prosecutors alleged that the business conspired with a neighboring Gold Business store to launder money, prosecutors claimed.
Prosecutors claimed that employees at the Gold Business sold large amounts of jewelry for cash to a customer of the U.S. Private Vaults who is also a confidential informant working with law enforcement.
‘I recommend you stay under $10,000 in cash and then you could just do some one day, and a few days later you could do the other,’ a Gold Business worker allegedly told an undercover DEA agent posing as a customer.
‘If you buy less than $10,000 then there’s no form.’
In the indictment, a federal grand jury charged U.S. Private Vaults with three counts: conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to structure transactions.
The indictment did not name any of the people believed to be behind the illegal activity and it is not immediately clear if they would independently face criminal charges. However, the legality of the seizure has already sparked a contentious court battle, the Los Angeles Times has reported.
One customer has already claimed that feds ‘overreached by confiscating the belongings in every security box,’ according to court filings obtained by the outlet.
The customer, listed as John Doe, has claimed that law enforcement seized the contents of the boxes ‘without showing why it suspected each person of committing crimes’ and has alleged that the search of hundreds of boxes ‘was unconstitutional.’
The government improperly seized his jewelry and other valuables in three different boxes ‘because there was no probable cause’ that the customer committed a crime, the customer claims.
Benjamin N. Gluck, the customer’s attorney, wrote in the court filings that customers have ‘a separate reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her separately controlled box or boxes,’ the outlet reported.
He is trying to get a court order to prevent the FBI from requiring customers who had items seized to identity themselves.
The form on the FBI website requires customers seeking their items back to list their names and phone numbers and asks a variety of other identifiers that are not required to complete the form.
Those identifiers include email and physical addresses, while the form notes that false statements on it are ‘a federal crime.’
Gluck is alleging in court documents that the FBI is holding his client’s items ‘hostage’ until he identifies himself.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Brown said in court filings that some customers are ‘honest citizens,’ while defending seizure of all the boxes ‘to distinguish between honest and criminal customers,’ The Los Angeles Times reported.
‘The government must examine the specific facts of each box and each claim,’ Brown reportedly said.
Another Beverly Hills attorney with several clients who are customers of U.S. Private Vaults told The Los Angeles Times that the government’s actions ‘show low regard for the Fourth Amendment.’
Attorney Nina Marino slammed the government for ‘seizing innocent box owners’ property’ and viewing it even if some boxes were used to commit crimes.
‘It’s just outrageous that the government has such low regard for the 4th Amendment and for an individual’s expectation of privacy,’ she said.
A manager at U.S. Private Vaults dealt marijuana and cocaine, and prosecutors alleged that the business conspired with a neighboring Gold Business store
Considering the wide sweeping search by the federal agents legal experts are of the opinion that search would have been that wide without cause. ‘Maybe they have the evidence, and that’s the thing we don’t know,’ said Beth Colgan, a UCLA law professor.
Colgan told The Los Angeles Times that it would be shocking if a judge had allowed the FBI to search every box in the sealed warrant. ‘I would just be very surprised if a judge had approved a warrant that would allow the FBI to go through every single box absent evidence that the entire system was corrupt,’ she said.
Brown conceded in court papers that some U.S. 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.”