FBI Must Answer for $2,000 it Stole from Safe-Deposit Box, Judge Rules


(Ken Silva, Headline USA) A federal judge has denied the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the FBI over its illegal raid of hundreds of renters’ safe-deposit boxes in Beverly Hills—meaning that the bureau will have to answer questions about $2,000 that went missing from the raid.

The judge’s Thursday decision stems from an investigation the FBI opened into US Private Vaults, or USPV—a company that, unlike typical banks, provided safe-deposit boxes to customers without requiring identification. The FBI had been investigating individual USPV customers, but determined the “real problem” was USPV, which they believed served as a “money laundering facilitator.”

Accordingly, the FBI raided the entire USPV vault in 2021.

Even though the warrant authorizing the raid only permitted the FBI to open boxes to identify their owners and safeguard the contents, agents rummaged through hundreds of boxes, ran currency they found in front of drug sniffing dogs, and made copies of people’s most personal records, according to the Institute for Justice, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of multiple non-criminal USPV customers.

As Headline USA reported in January, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FBI acted unlawfully in its 2021 raid on USPV.

Thursday’s decision comes from a separate-but-related lawsuit filed by Jeni Pearsons, who was also a part of the above-referenced litigation. Pearsons had the contents of her safe-deposit box returned to her last year—except there was $2,000 missing, which led to her suing again last September.

“How does Jeni know that $2,000 went missing from her box? Whenever she visited the box, she took a picture of the contents. And, when she visited the box in February 2021—just a month before the raid–she took a picture of the cash. But when the FBI returned the contents of the box, there was no cash at all,” explained Rob Johnson, a lawyer for the Institiute for Justice.

The DOJ had argued that Pearsons’ lawsuit should be dismissed on “sovereign immunity” grounds—the notion that the government is shielded from being sued for individual damages.

But the presiding judge rejected that argument on Thursday.

“So, now the case moves forward to discovery—meaning we get to ask the FBI some uncomfortable questions about what exactly happened to the missing $2,000. I literally couldn’t be looking forward to that more,” Johnson said.

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.