Lawsuit filed after FBI agents raided 1,400 deposit boxes at a US Private Vaults branch claims owners' items have still not been returned

Lawsuit filed after FBI agents raided 1,400 deposit boxes at a US Private Vaults branch claims owners' items have still not been returned
FBI agents raided the Beverly Hills branch of US Private Vaults in March 2021.Mandel Ngan/Getty Images
  • Deposit-box holders whose property was seized in a March 2021 FBI raid are suing the bureau.
  • The FBI raided a US Private Vaults branch and seized the contents of 1,400 safe-deposit boxes.

A lawsuit that was filed after FBI agents raided a vault company, seizing more than $86 million in cash as well as jewelry and gold from 1,400 safe-deposit boxes, says the owners' items have still not been returned and that agents misled a judge to get the warrant.

Agents raided the Beverly Hills, California, branch of US Private Vaults in March 2021 and seized assets from boxes held by hundreds of people who were not suspected in any crimes, court papers reported on by the Los Angeles Times say.

The lawsuit alleges the FBI and the US attorney's office in Los Angeles obtained search-and-seizure warrants against US Private Vaults by concealing critical details from the judge who approved them.

Robert Frommer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, which filed the lawsuit, said in the court papers: "The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done."

After the raid, many box holders asked the FBI for their property back, Frommer told Insider.


"We brought suit on behalf of seven clients, but we were representing a class of at least 400 people. What we've been trying to show for the past several months is that the government's actions violated the search-and-seizure protections of the US Constitution in the Fourth Amendment," he said.

"The scope of what the FBI did is unprecedented," Frommer added. "This was the largest armed robbery in United States history, and it was committed by the FBI."

After a two-year investigation that began in 2019, leaders of the FBI's Los Angeles office said they believed boxes at US Private Vaults were being used by criminals to store illicit proceeds.

The FBI requested and obtained warrants to seize US Private Vaults' business property. But the LA Times reported a senior FBI agent recently testified that the warrant omitted a key part of the bureau's plan — to permanently seize everything in every box that contained at least $5,000 in cash or goods.

Frommer said in an Institute for Justice press release last month: "The FBI lied about its intentions in claiming to only be interested in the property of the business, and not the box holders. Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops into robbers."


Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokesperson, told the LA Times the warrants were lawfully executed "based on allegations of widespread criminal wrongdoing."

She added: "At no time was a magistrate misled as to the probable cause used to obtain the warrants."

US Private Vaults has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money, and the investigation is ongoing, Eimiller added.

The FBI and Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Frommer wants the government to destroy any information or records obtained from customers' boxes in what he said was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.


The Fourth Amendment protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures." It requires the government to get a warrant by showing probable cause explaining why a location needs to be searched and describing specifically what it is seizing.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have asked for the FBI raid to be deemed unconstitutional by a district judge, the LA Times reported. Doing so could force the return of assets worth millions of dollars to box holders.