Joseph Ruiz rented a safety deposit box from U.S. Private Vaults in February 2021 as a safe place to keep his savings. But the government broke open the Joseph’s private space on March 22, 2021, when FBI agents raided U.S. Private Vaults. The raid was the result of an indictment accusing U.S. Private Vaults, the business, of money laundering and other crimes. But in executing the warrant, the government didn’t just seize the company’s business property. Upon the pretense of wanting to take a relatively worthless metal rack of boxes, federal agents broke into every security deposit box and emptied them of their contents. The FBI now refuses to give anyone their property back until they come forward and submit to an “investigation.” In other words, the government wants to force people to prove their own innocence to get their own stuff back.
The government’s games have hurt box renters, especially Joseph. An accident severely injured Joseph’s back, and he relied on the money that he kept in his security box to get medical care and buy food. But the government took and held Joseph’s money for over two months, and now has baselessly alleged that it should be forfeited to the government. Joseph is running out of options: Cut off from his funds, Joseph has been forced to stop seeking treatment and physical therapy at a nearby gym. And his diet consists almost exclusively of staples that he purchased during the runup to the pandemic. Those stores of food, just like Joseph’s patience, are running low.
4th Amendment Project | Civil Forfeiture | Private Property
FBI agents broke into hundreds of private security deposit box without warrants. Holding government officials accountable for violating Fourth Amendment rights is crucial to ensure similar abuses don’t occur in the future.