Paul and Jennifer Snitko are model citizens. Paul is a retired aerospace engineer who has held multiple security clearances and Jennifer is an entertainment lawyer. Neither has ever been in trouble with the law. Yet the government is now forcing them, and hundreds of other people not even suspected of a crime, through a legal gauntlet with no clear end in sight.
Paul and Jennifer, who live in Los Angeles, needed a place to safely store their prized possessions. They found that U.S. Private Vaults, in Beverly Hills, was convenient, secure and had better hours. So, they stored precious items like Paul’s flight log and watches he and his father earned from years of service at their jobs in their rented box.
But the government broke open the Snitkos’ 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.
Everyone has the right to contract for a private, secure place to store their property. But no place can be secure if the government gets away with what it did here. That’s why Paul and Jennifer—along with two other plaintiffs—have teamed up with the Institute for Justice to demand that the federal government return the property of everyone who has come forward to claim their property from the FBI.
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.