We private vault stories at Techdirt.
from nice-job,-pervert department
There is no doubt that civil forfeiture of assets perverts the incentives of law enforcement. Where a government agency can directly benefit from seizing the property of others, it will do so as often as possible. And when the justice system is biased against people seeking to recover their property, it greases the wheels for abuse.
In cases of confiscation, the government is authorized to treat seized property as presumed guilty, placing the burden of proof on those whose property was seized to prove that they acquired it lawfully. Reversing the burden of proof makes foreclosures less likely to be challenged since citizens are not guaranteed free representation in what is ostensibly a civil matter. This means that if people can’t afford to hire a lawyer (or realize that the legal fees will exceed the value of the seized goods), the government will be able to keep whatever it stole.
The FBI used this leverage to seize anything agents found in private storage boxes belonging to US Private Vaults customers. The company offered secure storage with no questions asked to customers in storefront operations located in shopping malls and other areas operated by US Private Vaults. Customers could access the contents of their secure storage boxes. American private safes could not. The government thought it was inherently suspicious.
Thus, he concocted a plan to attack the locations of the US Private Vaults. This plan included lying in court about what the FBI agents planned to do during these searches. Federal agents swore they would not seize the contents of individual boxes, but rather seize the entire “nest” of boxes stored in a private U.S. safe deposit box location and only examine the contents of individual boxes in the purpose of identifying owners who may be contacted about the raid and seizure. This is from the FBI warrant request:
This warrant does not authorize a criminal search or seizure of safes.. When seizing safe nests, officers should follow their written inventory policies to protect their agencies and the contents of the safes. In accordance with their written policies, officers must inspect the contents of the boxes to identify their owners in order to warn them so that they can claim their property.
Despite these affidavits, the FBI conducted criminal searches and seizures of the contents of individual boxes. This lie — along with the FBI’s failure to link seized assets to criminal activity — led to an early setback.
Less than a month after the raid, a federal court blocked the FBI from moving forward with a number of its planned forfeitures due to a lack of evidence linking the seized assets to criminal activity. As the judge then pointed out, the government’s only “evidence” was a cut-and-paste quote from supposedly relevant criminal codes — something entirely unsuitable to justify the seizure of certain clients’ assets.
The following month, the same court ordered the FBI to return $57,000 to a vault customer because it was still unable to link that seizure to alleged criminal activity.
Despite those early failures, the FBI is still trying to hold on to the majority of assets it told the court more than a year ago it wasn’t going to seize. The Institute for Justice has been involved in this case since its inception. And now he’s asking the court to take note of the FBI’s willingness to keep lying to maintain its grip on his ill-gotten gains. Joseph Cox, head of Motherboard, has the details. (h/t Michael Vario)
“The government has a duty to be honest with the court when seeking a Fourth Amendment warrant,” Institute for Justice senior counsel Robert Frommer said in a statement. “But the FBI lied about its intentions by claiming to only be interested in company property, not box holders. Ultimately, the lure of civil forfeiture turned these federal cops into thieves. .
Before sending their warrant request to a judge, authorities “did not tell the judge that months earlier they and other government agencies had already formulated plans to use civil forfeiture against client property. . In fact, even before the federal magistrate had seen the warrant application, FBI officials had concluded that they would use civil forfeiture against every asset in every client’s box that was worth more than $5,000,” writes the Institute for Justice.
Long before the government lied on its warrant application – the one that said the FBI would not seize/search individual boxes for criminal reasons – the FBI was already planning to do what it would later tell a think he wouldn’t.
The plan began in June 2020, nine months before the FBI (under false pretenses) obtained a search warrant to carry out the raid into the US Private Vaults. That plan, according to a court filing obtained by the Institute for Justice, showed that the FBI had already set up its forfeiture unit to handle the expected influx of seizures that this raid would produce.
Lie after lie and yet somehow it’s still the customers of a private safe company having to spend their own money to guarantee the return of… their own money. Civil forfeiture of property is a perversion of the law. And, as these latest revelations show, the government is filled with exactly the kind of pervert that civilian asset forfeiture attracts.
Filed Under: 4th amendment, asset forfeiture, civil asset forfeiture, fbi
Companies: we have private safes