FBI misled judge, seized $86 million in cash from private bank vaults, court documents allege

An official testified that the warrant omitted the main part of the FBI's plan: To permanently seize everything inside of boxes that contained at least $5,000 in cash or goods.

Updated: September 29, 2022 - 4:23pm

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The FBI misled a federal judge who signed a warrant that agents used to rummage through 1,400 private safe deposit boxes in a Beverly Hills vault where they seized $86 million in cash, according to newly unsealed court records.

Agents also defied restrictions set by U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim in the warrant, court filings obtained by The Los Angeles Times last week show. The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office denied misleading the judge or not following his orders.

A senior FBI agent recently testified that the warrant notably omitted the main portion of the FBI's plan: to permanently confiscate everything inside of boxes that contained at least $5,000 in cash or goods.

"The government did not know what was in those boxes, who owned them, or what, if anything, those people had done," said attorney Robert Frommer, who is representing nearly 400 box holders in the class-action lawsuit. "That's why the warrant application did not even attempt to argue there was probable cause to seize and forfeit box renters' property."

Over the course of five days in 2021, agents allegedly raided the U.S. Private Vaults store in Beverly Hills and permanently seized everything from $86 million in cash to precious metals, rare coins and Rolex and Cartier watches from 369 private boxes.

In May 2021, the FBI claimed the contents of the boxes were linked to crimes.

About half of the boxes later had their contents returned after the FBI could not produce evidence to support the allegations, court filings show. So far, about $52 million has been recovered, in part after the FBI returned the box contents and also through private negotiations involving the U.S. attorney's office.