The FBI Seized $86 Million in Jewelry and Cash—Is it Constitutional?

By: Ben Campbell | Published: Dec 16, 2023

The FBI has been accused of breaching “constitutional rights” after it seized $86 million of jewelry and cash from safety deposit boxes.

According to the federal agency, they acquired Rolex watches, Cartier bracelets, and a vast amount of cash from a business accused of money laundering.

Americans Plan to Sue the Government

Customers of a safety deposit box business based in Beverly Hills, California, plan to sue the government after the FBI seized their private property in 2021.

A group of Americans gather together in front of the national flag

Source: Freepik

The business was under investigation for money laundering at the time, which forced the judge to grant the FBI a search warrant.

FBI Raid the Business

U.S. Private Vaults was thought to be tied to various illicit activities, including allowing criminals to store drugs and guns in security boxes.

San Francisco police officers and F.B.I. agents gather in front of the home of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

After obtaining the warrant, the FBI raided the business in March 2021. The federal agency seized over 1,400 safety deposit boxes during the raid.

Outcry from Innocent Civilians

Upon inspecting the contents of the security boxes, the FBI claimed to have discovered guns, drugs such as fentanyl, and millions of dollars in cash.

An assortment of illegal pills and cash

Source: Freepik

However, many customers of U.S. Private Vaults claim their contents were stolen even though they hadn’t broken any laws.

Innocent Citizens Have Their Possessions Seized

U.S. Private Vaults eventually pleaded guilty to money laundering. However, customers of the business, who were not accused of any crime, claim the FBI will not return their valuable possessions, which include luxury watches and gold bars.

Luxury watch is shown off by a person wearing black gloves

Source: Freepik

According to U.S. law, civil asset forfeiture allows the government to seize cash or property from individuals without ever actually charging them with a crime.

Americans Take Action

After the refusal by the FBI to return the life savings and personal possessions of those who weren’t charged, the innocent Americans have decided to take matters into their own hands.

A judge dressed in a black robe holds a hammer and its base

Source: Freepik

Many of the safety deposit box owners have since come together to file a class-action lawsuit against the government.


Government Accused of Breaching Constitutional Rights

The renters argue that the FBI and the American government have violated their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

Small group of protestors gather on the streets of a city

Source: Freepik

Others claim they have breached the Firth Amendment as their private property was seized without compensation.


Renters Feel Misled and Angry at the Government

Box renters such as Linda Martin have spoken out about the ordeal and how it has affected her ability to trust government officials. “I felt misled, I felt angry, I’m still angry,” she said.

Woman vents in frustration and expresses anger as she clenches both her fists

Source: Freepik

“They didn’t tell us why they took our money; they haven’t told us why as of yet,” she added.


The Lengthy Search for Accountability

Another renter, Travis May, explained he’s somewhat happy with the progress of the case following a hearing on Dec. 7.

Two attorneys stop to share notes during a court session

Source: Freepik

“It’s been just a long journey to get accountability for this from the government. Obviously, the journey is not over. But today felt very good to have to see that those concerns are being taken seriously,” he explained.


Going Forward with the Case

The case will now be settled by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court sided with the FBI last year.

Man appeals to two judges inside of a courtroom

Source: Freepik

“I think the public sees this and recognizes that this is just a total abuse of people’s constitutional rights,” said attorney Rob Johnson, a member of the Insistute of Justice (via Fox News).


FBI Claims They Did All They Could

During the hearing last Thursday, Victor Rodgers argued on behalf of the government that the FBI had tried to return the private possessions to those who weren’t charged with any crime.

Two federal officers pictured during a meeting

Source: Freepik

The attorney even claimed the federal agency had posted a notice on the window of the USPV. “All they had to do was contact the FBI,” Rodgers said.


No Comment from the Federal Agency

The FBI has declined any invitation to comment on the pending litigation.

Reports speaks on recent news in his local area

Source: Freepik

The agency calls forfeiture a vital tool in the fight against criminal and terrorist organizations and claims it is a way to punish those who have committed a crime.