Hundreds Attempt To Get Their Money Back After FBI Deposit Box Raid Fails To Produce Evidence Of Wrongdoing

  • Hundreds of people are attempting to get back money and valuables seized by the FBI after it raided deposit boxes they rented, the Los Angeles Times reported.
  • “It was a complete violation of my privacy,” Joseph Ruiz, an unemployed chef and one of 66 box holders who have filed court claims saying the seizure was unconstitutional, told the LA Times. “They tried to discredit my character.”
  • Some of the lawyers representing the box holders argue the government is attempting a “money grab” to obtain large sums for the Justice Department, the LA Times reported.

About 300 people are contesting the seizure of their money and valuables by the FBI after the agency failed to produce evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The FBI raided safe deposit boxes rented at the U.S. Private Vaults store at a strip mall in Beverly Hills, California, in March, the LA Times reported. The agency is attempting to confiscate $86 million in cash, in addition to other valuables, such as a stockpile of jewelry.

Federal agents claim criminals were storing loot in the deposit boxes, but have not produced evidence of wrongdoing for the vast majority of those who rented them, the LA Times reported. Prosecutors have thus far outlined 11 individuals with past criminal convictions or pending charges, out of the roughly 800 box holders, to justify the forfeitures.

“It was a complete violation of my privacy,” Joseph Ruiz, an unemployed chef and one of 66 box holders who have filed court claims saying the seizure was unconstitutional, told the LA Times. “They tried to discredit my character.”

The FBI claimed the $57,000 they took from Ruiz was too much for him to have accumulated from his income and that a dog had smelled unspecified drugs on his cash, the LA Times reported. The agency said there was “probable cause” the money came from drug trafficking.

Once Ruiz produced records showing his source for the money was legitimate, the FBI dropped the accusation and gave back his money, the LA Times reported.

“You actually don’t know anything until that currency is run through a lab,” Mary Cablk, a Nevada scientist and expert witness on drug dogs for both prosecutors and defense lawyers, told the LA Times. She added that a dog’s detection of drug residue “might be valid” and “might be complete bunk.”

U.S. Private Vaults was indicted in February for conspiring with unidentified customers to deal drugs, launder money and structure cash transactions to dodge government detection, the LA Times reported. No people were charged and the case has remained dormant since that point.

Prosecutors allege U.S. Private Vaults purposefully marketed itself to criminals by emphasizing the ability of customers to rent the deposit boxes anonymously, according to 15 lawsuits and other claims filed by the renters, the LA Times reported.

A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen 03 August 2007 inside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The owner of the business, Michael Poliak, is also alleged to have admitted to making money from healthcare fraud and illegal marijuana sales, a U.S. postal inspector claimed in court papers, the LA Times reported.

Some of the lawyers representing the box holders argue the government is attempting a “money grab” to obtain large sums for the Justice Department, including Benjamin Gluck, the LA Times reported.

Gluck told the LA Times the forfeiture complaint filed Monday against two brothers from Woodland Hills was “an appalling and unconstitutional abuse of power.” The only evidence cited by the complaint was that one of the brothers had allegedly “been in contact with” suspected armed robbers of cellular phone stores.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, told the LA Times that dog alerts on cash were “strong evidence” of drug crimes, but added they were “not the only factor contributing to probable cause.”

He added that Ruiz was never charged with a crime, but found “probable cause to believe that the funds in his box were linked to drug trafficking.” (RELATED: FBI Releases Newly Declassified Document On 9/11 Saudi Link)

“The government’s theory is that having cash makes you a presumptive criminal, and I think every American should be worried about that,” Robert E. Johnson, a lawyer representing Ruiz and six other box holders in a class-action suit aiming to destroy all records documented from the search, told the LA Times.

“They pulled a bank heist in broad daylight,” Ruiz told the LA Times. “They didn’t even apologize.”

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Air raid sirens sound in Israel after rocket fired from Gaza

JERUSALEM — Air raid sirens sounded in southern Israel on Monday after a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip, the first since the 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in May.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it identified one rocket launch that was intercepted by aerial defense batteries.

Amateur video footage appeared to show the rocket being intercepted over the southern town of Sderot.

The rocket fire could jeopardize three months of relative calm since Israel and the militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, struck a cease-fire.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket fire. It came hours after Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen during a late-night arrest raid in the occupied West Bank, killing four Palestinians in one of the deadliest battles in the area in years.

The fighting erupted in Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank where tensions have been high since a man was killed in fighting with Israel earlier this month.

Israel’s paramilitary border police said its forces were attempting to arrest a suspect when they “came under heavy fire from close range” by a number of gunmen. It said Israeli forces returned fire, and none of its officers were injured.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said four men were killed by Israeli fire and a fifth was seriously wounded.

Amateur footage from the scene appeared to show an intense exchange of gunfire in the streets of Jenin.

Senior Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh accused Israel of “a heinous crime” and tweeted that “the international community should be ashamed of its silence about this and its failure to provide protection to the Palestinian people from this oppression.”

During the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, Jenin experienced some of the heaviest fighting with Israel, though the area has generally been quiet in recent years. According to the Israeli military, there have been at least eight clashes between troops and Palestinian gunmen over the past two months.

The Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system (left) intercepts rockets (right) fired by the Hamas movement toward southern Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip as seen in the sky above the Gaza Strip overnight on May 14, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

The West Bank has experienced an uptick in deadly violence in recent months, with over two dozen Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in recent weeks, including children and Palestinian protesters. Israel’s war in May in the Gaza Strip, driven by friction at a contested Jerusalem holy site and attempts by a settler group to evict Palestinians in east Jerusalem, and the recent establishment of a West Bank settlement outpost have contributed to the tensions.

Last week, Israel’s military chief urged troops to follow professional regulations and “act with discretion” in light of the complexity of the situation.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and in the decades since has established dozens of settlements where nearly 500,000 settlers reside. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as part of their future state and view the settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the conflict.



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Nicaraguan police raid La Prensa newspaper, charge directors with fraud

A view shows the facade of La Prensa, Nicaragua’s only print newspaper, which will no longer issue a print edition complaining that the administration of President Daniel Ortega was withholding the paper it uses for publishing, in Managua, Nicaragua August 12, 2021. REUTERS/Maynor Valenzuela

August 14, 2021

(Reuters) – Nicaraguan police on Friday raided the office of La Prensa, the only national newspaper, after President Daniel Ortega’s government opened customs fraud and money laundering investigations against the publication.

La Prensa has long been a thorn in the side of Ortega, repeatedly referring to him as a “dictator” after his security forces in 2018 crushed a wave of protests in the Central American country and 326 people died.

On Thursday, the 95-year-old newspaper said it would only publish digital content as the authorities had impounded its ink and paper, forcing it to stop printing a paper edition.

La Prensa’s editor-in-chief, Eduardo Enríquez, told Reuters that policemen raided the newspaper’s offices on Friday and prohibited staff from using their cell phones. Enriquez said he was not at the newspaper when the police arrived.

The police raid follows a months-long crackdown by Ortega’s government against its political rivals, including multiple presidential candidates, ahead of elections due in November.

Ortega, who has ruled Nicaragua since returning to power in 2007, has said his administration was arresting and prosecuting criminals who were plotting a coup against him.

“The National Police initiated an investigation against La Prensa … and its directors for customs fraud, money laundering,” the police said in a statement.

The directors could not immediately be reached for comment.

La Prensa is owned by the Chamorro family, one of Nicaragua’s most prominent. Several of its members, who aspired to contest the elections as presidential hopefuls in November, have been arrested in recent months.

That includes Cristiana Chamorro, the 66-year-old vice president of La Prensa and daughter of the late leader Violeta, who ended Ortega’s first stint in power when she won the 1990 presidential elections.

Violeta’s brother, opposition politician Pedro Joaquin, has also been detained, while her other brother, prominent Ortega critic and journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, fled abroad.

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Grant McCool)





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NIMBY Complaints Result in Police Raid, Sodomy Charges at Maryland Bookstore – Reason.com

A raid on a Maryland adult bookstore in May resulted in some potentially unconstitutional arrests of three men for violating the state’s partially repealed sodomy law.

On Tuesday, the Washington Blade reported that back in May, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office arrested nine people when it raided Bush River Books & Video store in Abington, just north of Baltimore.

Of those nine, only three men were charged with perverted sexual practice. Another four were charged with indecent exposure, one was charged with indecent exposure and perverted sexual practice, and one person was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. The statement the sheriff’s office gave the Blade says that one of their undercover female officers was solicited by one of the bookstore’s patrons.

“I went inside and was hooking up with someone and the next thing I know, eight of us were against the wall with handcuffs with plastic zip ties on them,” one of the men arrested told the Blade. “And we all spent the night in jail. I was released at like six o’clock in the morning.”

The bookstore has long been a subject of neighborhood complaints and police attention.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the sheriff’s office had started conducting “spot checks” at the bookstore in late 2011, which periodically resulted in arrests of patrons for indecent exposure. One such check also found holes cut into the walls separating private video viewing booths, a violation of the county’s code.

“It really deters other businesses, especially upscale businesses, from opening, and really deters the revitalization process in that area,” said John Paff, the head of the Bush River Community Council to the Sun in 2012. A Change.org petition launched in June 2020 demands that the county “shut down this nuisance to our neighborhood.” It’s thus far received 169 signatures.

Similar NIMBY complaints appear to have motivated the most recent raid on the Bush River bookstore.

“In the past several months, we have received an increased number of concerns and allegations of a wide variety of illegal activity occurring at Bush River Books and Video,” the Sheriff’s office said. “We take all citizen concerns seriously, and there is an active investigation into these concerns.”

The arrested men have a trial date in August. Those charged with perverted sexual practice, however, might be able to get off.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, that sodomy laws criminalizing private sexual behavior were unconstitutional. In 2020, Maryland’s legislature also partially repealed the state’s law criminalizing sodomy. The text of the repeal bill, however, shows that it left in place various references in the state’s criminal code to “unnatural or perverted sexual practice.”

Greg Nevins, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a gay rights public interest law firm, told the Blade that the Lawrence ruling should offer protection to the men charged with committing sex acts in a private, locked video viewing booth, comparing it to a couple having sex in a rented hotel room.

Constitutional issues aside, there’s also the libertarian case to be made that businesses should be free to allow whatever kind of consensual sexual activity they want on their own property.



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Judge stymies feds’ plan — again — to keep $85 million in raid without filing criminal charges

The feds faced another setback in their quest to keep $85 million in assets seized in a raid without charging hundreds of safe deposit box renters with a crime.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner issued a preliminary injunction July 16 in a lawsuit by several customers of Los Angeles-based U.S. Private Vaults (USPV), who alleged the FBI denied them due process by providing civil forfeiture notices that lacked “any legal basis” for seizing the contents of each box.

The feds indicted USPV for conspiracy to sell drugs and launder money, but not its customers, even while portraying them as an undifferentiated mass of criminals.

But the judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) last month, finding that the seizure notices fell “woefully short” of providing the “specific statutory provision,” such as forgery or smuggling, under which the assets were seized.

Ordered by Klausner to “show cause” on why he shouldn’t halt seizures until ruling on the merits of the case, the feds responded June 29 by disputing that the initial notice of forfeiture proceedings, “standing alone, must set forth the factual details and legal basis that support forfeiture.”

An agency is only required to provide these details before making a “final decision,” such that “a person has a meaningful opportunity to respond to a threatened forfeiture,” acting U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison wrote. Plaintiffs cannot “with the mere flick of a pen” change the legal standard in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over California federal courts.

Wilkison groused that the Institute for Justice (IJ), which is representing the four plaintiffs who secured the TRO, included two who had already filed claims with the FBI for return of their property. That starts a 90-day clock on an administrative process under which the government must either file a judicial forfeiture proceeding or return the property.

This “oversight” by the public interest law firm “resulted in consideration of complex constitutional and asset forfeiture issues on an unnecessarily rapid basis,” Wilkison said. IJ had sought the TRO on the basis of June 24-25 deadlines mentioned in some of the forfeiture notices and the government’s self-declared leeway to deny claims not filed “correctly.”

Judge Klausner dispensed with the feds’ 28-page filing in a single sentence in the order approving the preliminary injunction, saying Wilkison “failed to show cause” regarding the two plaintiffs who hadn’t filed claims with the FBI.

That means the FBI cannot permanently seize $57,000 in cash from Joseph Ruiz, who is unemployed due to a crippling accident and has been unable to pay for medical treatment following the raid on USPV, according to IJ. The ruling also applies to Travis May, who was storing gold and $63,000 in cash.

The judge declined to extend the preliminary injunction to all USPV customers because they didn’t join IJ’s legal challenge. He also rejected for a second time the plaintiffs’ request to certify a class of all similarly situated USPV customers, but on narrow grounds: They need to hit a 40-member minimum to certify a class.

Klausner just wants to get “some basic information, like the precise number of people who had property seized, filed claim forms, etc., before certifying the class,” IJ attorney Robert Frommer, who is representing the plaintiffs, wrote in an email.

“That may take some more work and some more time, but we know the steps we need to take to get relief for more people unjustly subject to civil forfeiture,” IJ spokesperson Andrew Wimer added.

The government is backed into a corner regarding plaintiffs and married couple Jeni Verdon-Pearsons and Michael Storc, who submitted their claim to the FBI in early June, Wimer said. The feds must “put forward real evidence that connects their property to a crime. Hopefully, the government will see the writing on the wall and move sooner rather than later” in returning their assets.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, Thom Mrozek, did not respond to a query.

Still unresolved is why the FBI rifled through the contents of several safe deposit boxes in the March raid at USPV, as documented by video evidence submitted in another case. The search warrant approved by the court prohibited snooping on the box contents except to “identify their owners in order to notify them” about claiming their property.



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Belarus police raid homes and offices of journalists, rights activists

KYIV, July 16 – Belarusian police searched offices and homes of independent journalists and human rights activists for the third successive day on Friday, extending what President Alexander Lukashenko’s opponents say is a new crackdown on dissent.

A senior law enforcement official was quoted by the state-run Belta news agency as saying security forces carried out the searches after receiving information about the alleged financing of protests against Lukashenko.

Local human rights groups said at least five people had been detained, and 25 homes and offices had been searched.

The office of US broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was among those searched, the Belarus association of Journalists said, denouncing “a massive attack by security forces on journalists across the country.”

On its website, RFE/RL quoted witnesses as saying police had broken through the door of its office in the capital Minsk and said the homes of two RFE/RL journalists had been searched.

Human rights organization Viasna-96 said two RFE/RL journalists were detained. The wife of one, correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich, told RFE/RL that he had been led away in handcuffs by police who removed computers, phones and money.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech in Minsk, Belarus May 26, 2021.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech in Minsk, Belarus May 26, 2021.
Reuters

Belta quoted Vladimir Shyshko, an official at Belarus’s Investigative Committee which prosecutes major crimes, as saying the committee had acted on information about a “shadow movement of significant financial resources, primarily from abroad, tax evasion and financing of various kinds of protest activity.”

Non-governmental organizations and independent media have previously dismissed such accusations.

The authorities have shut down a number of media outlets and rights groups since protests began last August against a presidential election which the opposition says was rigged. Lukashenko, in power since 1994, denies electoral fraud.

On Wednesday and Thursday, security officials conducted searches in around 20 human rights, charitable, media and expert institutions, detaining more than 15 people, including the head of Viasna-96.

The searches follow new sanctions imposed on Belarus by the European Union and the United States since Minsk diverted a passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania and detained a dissident journalist and his girlfriend who were on board.

PEN America and several other human rights bodies issued a statement describing the moves this week in the former Soviet republic as “flagrant action against civil society and independent media”, and demanded the release of those detained.



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Cycling-Mollema claims vintage Tour de France victory with solo raid

Cycling – Tour de France – Stage 14 – Carcassonne to Quillan – France – July 10, 2021 Trek–Segafredo rider Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands celebrates on the podium after winning stage 14 REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

July 10, 2021

By Julien Pretot

QUILLAN, France (Reuters) -Bauke Mollema completed a bold, vintage solo raid to claim his second Tour de France win in 11 participations at the end of the 14th stage, a rough 183.7-km ride from Carcassonne on Saturday.

Austrian Patrick Konrad took second place, with Colombia’s Sergio Higuita coming home third, both one minute four seconds off the pace.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey at the end of a hot day in southwestern France, on roads peppered with short but brutal climbs.

“I knew I had a good chance to make it to the end, I paced myself and when I saw I had a minute at the top of the last climb I knew it was done,” said Mollema, who sped away from the breakaway group on a descent with 42 kilometres to go.

“A few days ago, I had checked the course on Google Maps, especially the last 60 kilometres. I waited for the right moment to attack.

“I felt I had good legs in the breakaway and my confidence grew,” added Mollema, who had won his first Tour stage in 2017 in similar fashion and has six top-10 finishes on grands tours.

It is the Trek-Segafredo rider’s fourth major victory after he also won the Giro di Lombardia ‘Monument’ classic in 2019 and the Clasica San Sebastian in 2016.

The 34-year-old said he learned from his mistakes in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year.

“I made some mistakes, after one week only I was too eager to go in a breakaway and I spent too much energy, that killed me for the rest of the Giro,” he explained.

There was one major change in the general classification, however, as France’s Guillaume Martin jumped from ninth to second after taking part in the day’s breakaway.

Pogacar leads Martin by 4:04, with Colombian Rigoberto Uran in third place, 5:18 behind the defending champion.

Canadian Michael Woods snatched the polka-dot jersey for the mountains classification despite a crash after a two-man battle over the climbs with Dutch Wout Poels.

“I’m the first Canadian to wear it and I’m proud of that,” said Woods.

“On the crash, it’s my fault, I got in front because it was a dangerous descent but my wheel slipped.”

Sunday’s 15th stage is a lung-busting 191.3-km mountain trek to Andorra as the race reaches its highest point at the Port d’Envalira, 2,408 metres above sea level.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christina Fincher)





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Over 120 students missing after Nigeria school raid- church official

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KADUNA — About 125 students were still missing on Wednesday but 28 others had been re-united with their families after an attack by armed men on a boarding school in Nigeria’s Kaduna state, the head of the Kaduna Baptist conference said.

Gunmen raided the Bethel Baptist High School overnight on Monday, the 10th mass school kidnapping since December in northwest Nigeria. Parents told Reuters that 180 students typically attend the school, and that pupils were in the process of sitting exams.

Article content

Nigerian authorities have attributed the kidnappings to what they call armed bandits seeking ransom payments.

“Search and rescue operations (are) ongoing and we strongly believe that these students will safely return to their parents soon,” Reverend I.A.Jangado said in a statement.

Humanitarian agencies warn that the rise in school kidnappings is disrupting the education of hundreds of thousands of Nigerian children.

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF estimates that more than about 1,120 schools are closed across northwestern Nigeria. Even where schools are open, some parents are too afraid to send their children. Some 300,000-400,000 students in the region are out of school because of insecurity, UNICEF said.

“The situation we have found ourself is indeed pathetic, particularly for the parents of the kidnapped students and the school community,” said Jangado. (Reporting by Garba Muhammad, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Editing by Libby George and Timothy Heritage)



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Some 150 students missing after gunmen raid Nigerian school

BAUCHI/KADUNA, Nigeria – About 150 students are missing after armed men raided a boarding school in Nigeria’s Kaduna state, a parent and an administrator said on Monday, and police said they were in hot pursuit alongside military personnel.

The attack on the Bethel Baptist High School is the 10th mass school kidnapping since December in northwest Nigeria, which authorities have attributed to armed bandits seeking ransom payments.

Dozens of distraught parents gathered at the school compound, some weeping and crying out, standing in groups awaiting news. Discarded sandals lay strewn nearby. Dormitories containing metal bunk beds and cupboards were deserted.

“May God take away their tears and the suffering that they will face in the hands of the kidnappers,” said a woman pointing at a hole in the school’s perimeter where the attackers entered.

His voice breaking, parent John Evans said he had recently told his daughter that God would protect her while she studied at the school.

“Just this morning at about 6, I received a phone call that they have entered the school…kidnappers, that all our children are packed (taken), including my daughter,” he said. “We rushed down here, we confirmed that they are all packed.”

Police said gunmen shooting wildly attacked overnight and overpowered the school’s security guards, taking an unspecified number of students into a nearby forest. A police statement said 26 people including a female teacher had been rescued.

Reverend John Hayab, a founder of the school, told Reuters about 25 students had managed to escape while the school’s other students remained missing.

Roughly 180 students attended the school and were in the process of sitting exams, according to Hayab, whose 17-year-old son escaped, and parent, Hassana Markus, whose daughter was among those missing.

Local residents who declined to be identified told Reuters that security officials had cordoned off the school after the attack, which took place between 11 pm on Sunday and 4 am on Monday morning.

Armed men, known locally as bandits, have made an industry of kidnapping students for ransom in northwest Nigeria, with Kaduna state particularly hard hit. They have taken nearly 1,000 people from schools since December last year, more than 150 of whom remain missing.

Kidnappers have also targeted roads, private residents and even hospitals; in the early morning hours of Sunday, gunmen abducted six people including a one-year-old child from a hospital in Kaduna state.

In February, President Muhammadu Buhari urged state governments “to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles,” warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously. The unrest has become a political problem for Buhari, a retired general and former military ruler who has faced mounting criticism over prominent attacks by the gangs.



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Judge stops feds from seizing safe deposit boxes in $85M raid, citing due process rights

A federal judge scolded the feds for their “woefully” vague seizure notices to customers of U.S. Private Vaults (USPV), saying the planned forfeitures of safe deposit boxes likely violate customers’ constitutional due process rights.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the feds from initiating civil forfeiture against four individuals who sought return of their valuables until prosecutors provide the “specific factual and legal basis” for the action.

He gave the government until Tuesday to explain why the judge should not issue a preliminary injunction, which would halt planned forfeitures until the merits of the case were decided — a process that could take months.

It’s a black eye for the feds, who claimed USPV intentionally lured criminal activity and that its customers were an undifferentiated mass of drug dealers and money launderers. The government did not charge any customers with crimes, however, as it seized their belongings.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) is representing the four plaintiffs — married couple Jeni Verdon-Pearsons and Michael Storc, Joseph Ruiz and Travis May — as well as other USPV customers, some of whom have not identified themselves to the government to challenge the seizures.

The public interest law firm alleged the government is trying to seize $85 million in cash, precious metals, heirlooms and other valuables from customers who have not been accused of wrongdoing as part of the USPV prosecution.

Judge Klausner declined to cover all USPV customers whose boxes were seized without “specific legal and factual basis” in the TRO, limiting the ruling to the four plaintiffs. He also turned down IJ’s request to certify a class of customers who have identified themselves to the FBI and whose property remains in federal hands, subject to a “purported” forfeiture proceeding.

Rob Johnson, senior attorney for IJ, said the “reasoning” of the order applies to the hundreds of safe deposit box renters caught in the FBI raid of USPV, regardless of the judge’s limitation on the relief.

“If the government presses forward with these forfeitures now, it will be defying the court,” he said in a press release demanding the FBI and U.S. attorney for Los Angeles “bring these sham forfeiture proceedings to a close.”

Attorney Benjamin Gluck, who is representing other USPV customers, told the Los Angeles Times the import of the ruling was that the government would have to “try to prove a real case for forfeiture” against everyone whose boxes it seized and refuses to return. He’s skeptical that it can.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney did not respond to a request for comment from Just the News.

IJ’s lawsuit and others against the feds allege that the FBI exceeded the scope of the warrant, rifling through safe deposit boxes and taking photos of the contents instead of looking for contact information on the box for each renter and notifying them to claim their items. At least one lawsuit provided video evidence of agents exceeding the warrant’s restrictions.

This is the “most outrageous Fourth Amendment abuse that the Institute for Justice has ever seen,” IJ attorney Robert Frommer said when it announced the case in May.

Judge Klausner’s order was rushed to meet the deadlines the FBI gave some customers to file claims for return of their property before the government initiated forfeiture proceedings. One of the four plaintiffs, Ruiz, has not received an FBI notice, but the agency disclosed the planned seizures in detail to USPV’s lawyers.

He agreed the FBI notices likely violated the customers’ Fifth Amendment rights by providing “no factual basis” to seize their property, simply telling them where and when it was seized. 

The feds justified the seizure by citing “thirty-five sections of the United States Code,” including those covering forgery, counterfeiting, smuggling, loan fraud and bank fraud. This falls “woefully short” of the requisite “specific statutory provision” required to seize, Klausner wrote. 

The government claimed it wasn’t required to give specific factual and legal bases for the seizures because of the “procedural posture” of the case, and said the plaintiffs hadn’t shown “irreparable injury” from the planned forfeitures. 

Rejecting both arguments, the judge found that deprivation of due process rights “inexorably” causes irreparable injury under controlling precedent from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The FBI told the court before Klausner’s order that it designated property from about 250 boxes for return to their owners, among the 800 or so boxes seized in the raid, the Times reported. It has also terminated forfeiture proceedings against an unspecified number of boxes among 369 flagged for confiscation “after evaluating their owners’ explanations.”



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