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U.S. Private Vaults Seizure Resources

On March 22, 2021, the FBI raided the U.S. Private Vaults facility in Beverly Hills—seizing and searching over eight hundred safe deposit boxes. And on May 20, the government sent out notices indicating that it intends to forfeit the contents of over four hundred of those boxes. 

The Institute for Justice has filed a case challenging the government’s unconstitutional search of these boxes. In connection with that case, this page provides resources and information for USPV box holders. The information on this website is for general informational purposes only. It does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Information on this website may not be the most up-to-date, and it does not account for the individual facts of your situation. Readers therefore should not rely on this information. If you have questions about the U.S. Private Vaults’ seizure—or the forfeiture process generally—we recommend consulting a lawyer who can help you navigate the process.

Frequently Asked Questions

I received a forfeiture notice from the government. Do I need to do anything?

Yes. It is very important that you respond to the notice to avoid losing your property. 

If you received a forfeiture notice and do not respond to that notice, then your property will be automatically forfeited. That means you will lose all right to that property without ever seeing a judge. 

I heard about other cases challenging the seizure. Should I just wait to see what happens in those cases? 

No. It is impossible to know what will happen in our case or in any other case that has been filed to challenge the government’s actions.  In the meantime, it is essential that individual property owners act to preserve their rights. 

The notice says I can either file a petition or a claim. What should I do? 

Generally speaking, it is almost always better to file a claim. 

If you file only a petition, but do not file a claim, then you are giving up your right to have a judge decide if the government can keep your property. If the government denies your petition, you generally cannot challenge that denial in the courts.

By filing a claim, you force the government to prove its case before a court. For most property owners, it is better to force the government to make that case. 

However, you should talk to a lawyer to help you make a decision about how best to proceed in your individual case.

If I file a claim, what happens next?

If you file a claim, the government faces a 90-day deadline to file a court case to forfeit the property. If the government does not file a court case within that 90-day deadline, it is required to give the property back. 

If the government files a court case, you will then have to choose whether to intervene in that case to contest the forfeiture. 

  • If you do not intervene, then the property will most likely be automatically forfeited by default. 
  • If you do intervene, you will have to litigate the case to dispute the forfeiture.  

In other words, filing a claim may prompt the government to give the property back. And if the government does try to keep your property, you will have a choice whether to continue to dispute the forfeiture. 

Do I need an attorney to help me file a claim?

It is always better to retain an attorney to help you file a claim. If a claim is improperly filed, the government can use that as an excuse to try to keep your property. 

That said, you may file a claim without an attorney. If you do so, you should be very careful to follow the government’s instructions on the forfeiture notice letter. 

In general, if you are filing a claim without a lawyer, the best way to do it is by using the standard claim form that the government has posted online. 

  • The web address for that claim form is provided in the forfeiture notice letter.
  • Again, be very careful to follow all instructions when filling out the form. 

The government’s online claim form asks for supporting documentation to prove that I own my property. Do I need to give that? What should I give?

The government’s forfeiture notice letter makes clear that you are not required to submit supporting evidence along with your claim. 

A claim is required to (a) identify the specific property being claimed, (b) state the claimant’s interest in the property, and (c) be made under oath, subject to penalty of perjury. 

You should talk to a lawyer about whether to submit evidence along with your claim and, if so, what evidence to submit. 

If you are filing a claim without a lawyer, you should decide whether you would be comfortable sharing any supporting evidence with the FBI. 

If you are at all uncertain about whether to disclose a document to the FBI, it is best not to disclose it. After all, if you voluntarily hand over evidence, you cannot claw it back if you later change your mind.   

I have not received a forfeiture notice letter. Does that mean the government is giving my stuff back? 

Not necessarily. The government sent attorneys for U.S. Private Vaults a letter listing boxes that it is seeking to forfeit. 

  • If you had a box at U.S. Private Vaults, you should check that letter to see if your box is listed. 
  • If your box is listed, that means that the government is trying to keep the contents of your box and you need to take action to stop the process. 

I didn’t receive a forfeiture notice letter, but my box is listed as one the government is trying to forfeit. What should I do?

You should talk to an attorney to get advice about how to proceed in your specific case. 

In general, most box holders in this situation should file a claim to dispute the forfeiture of their property. A claim can be filed by following the instructions set out in the notice letter that the government sent to attorneys for U.S. Private Vaults.  

I didn’t receive a forfeiture notice letter, and my box isn’t listed as one the government is trying to forfeit. But the FBI still has my stuff. What should I do? 

You should talk to an attorney to get advice about how to proceed in your specific case. 

In general, we do not suggest that anyone contact the FBI without a lawyer. However, if you do not want to retain a lawyer and are comfortable contacting the FBI, the number for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office is (310) 477-6565. You should tell the FBI that you have not received a forfeiture notice and that you want to recover your property. 

Can the Institute for Justice help with my case?

The Institute for Justice cannot directly represent all eight hundred USPV box holders, and, at this time, we are not looking for additional clients for our case.  

We hope that our case will result in a decision that will help other USPV box holders—and not just our particular clients. But, in the meantime, we recommend that USPV box holders retain their own attorneys.

Can you refer me to attorneys who may be able to help?

Our local counsel in our case is familiar with attorneys in the Los Angeles area and can help refer box holders to attorneys. He can be reached at nvora@voralaw.com

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