Federal agents raided an anonymous safety deposit box business in Beverly Hills, California over alleged criminal activity, prompting customers to claim the property seizures were ‘unconstitutional,’ according to court documents.
A recently unsealed indictment from March 9 alleges that U.S. Private Vaults and its customers were actively laundering money and conspiring with drug dealers to store drugs, guns and cash in the boxes. They also claimed the business was marketing itself specifically to criminals.
After being tipped by an informant on the shady business dealings that granted a warrant to search the grounds of U.S. Private Vaults, FBI and Drug Enforcement Agents seized the contents of every single box on March 22.
They rounded up an ‘unspecified number of weapons’ as well as fentanyl, OxyContin and ‘huge stacks of $100 bills’ sniffed out by drug dogs, The Los Angeles Times reported. One of the boxes was stocked full of Benjamin’s, reportedly containing $1 million in cash, according to the outlet.
The FBI is now asking those customers of the business to “initiate a claim for your U.S. Private Vaults box” on the agency’s website.
The form on the FBI’s website reads: “To make a claim for property stored at U.S. Private Vaults in Beverly Hills, California, please provide the following information. An FBI agent will contact you for additional details.”
Prosecutors claimed that U.S. Private Vaults told their clientele base that its anonymous boxes were more secure than banks from federal agencies, according to the federal indictment. The company had also allegedly advertised, “We don’t even want to know your name,” and claimed that it did not require customer Identification that “can be easily accessed by government agencies.”
“Unlike traditional bank deposit boxes, US Private Vaults are 100 percent private, allowing your identity to remain completely anonymous,” U.S. Private Vaults President Steven Gregory said in a YouTube video.
“Unlike a bank, we don’t require our customers to show photo ID or provide a Social Security number as a requirement for renting a box,” Gregory says in the video. “We identify our clients through an iris scan and a palm geometry scan.”
A 10×10 box at U.S. Private Vaults rents annually for $2,000, with the smaller option, a 3×5 going for $700. And the company noted on its website that it accepts bitcoin.
Prosecutors claimed that employees would even tip-off customers if law enforcement officers were seen in the area, according to The Los Angeles Times.
A manager at U.S. Private Vaults dealt marijuana and cocaine, and prosecutors alleged that the business conspired with a neighboring Gold Business store to launder money, prosecutors claimed.
They also claim that employees at the Gold Business sold large amounts of jewelry for cash to a customer of the U.S. Private Vaults, who is also a confidential informant working with law enforcement.
“I recommend you stay under $10,000 in cash and then you could just do some one day, and a few days later you could do the other,” a Gold Business worker allegedly told an undercover DEA agent posing as a customer.
“If you buy less than $10,000 then there’s no form.”
A federal grand jury charged U.S. Private Vaults with three counts of conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to structure transactions, the indictment read.
A Beverly Hills attorney with several clients who are customers of U.S. Private Vaults told The Times that the government’s actions “show low regard for the Fourth Amendment.”
Attorney Nina Marino slammed the Feds for “seizing innocent box owners’ property” and viewing it even if some boxes were used to commit crimes.
“It’s just outrageous that the government has such low regard for the 4th Amendment and for an individual’s expectation of privacy,” Marino said.
Beth Colgan, a UCLA law professor, agreed with Marino’s assessment telling The Times that it would be shocking if a judge had allowed the FBI to search every box in the sealed warrant.
“I would just be very surprised if a judge had approved a warrant that would allow the FBI to go through every single box of absent evidence that the entire system was corrupt,” Colgan said. “Maybe they have the evidence, and that’s the thing we don’t know.”
The customers of U.S. Private Vaults are unknown and it’s unlikely many of them won’t come forward or cooperate with the FBI’s investigation.