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The FBI Returned This Innocent Couple's Safe Deposit Box. It Refuses To Give Back Many Others—and Is Trying To Seize $85 Million in Cash.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture

Billy Binion | 6.11.2021 4:59 PM

"The silence is deafening," said attorney Jennifer Snitko, who briefly choked up on Thursday as she exited the West Los Angeles Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard, home to the FBI's area field office.

She'd just piled into a small interrogation room to meet with two agents. Rifling through a brown paper bag, she furnished a series of documents and items recently withdrawn from sterile bags marked EVIDENCE. None seemed more out of place than a folded, thin white paper with a cross. It was a baptismal certificate.

"Evidence of what?" asks her husband Paul Snitko.

They're still not sure. Jennifer wasn't there to defend a client. It was her and her husband in the hot seat, tasked with proving that they were worthy of retrieving a trove of deeply personal items that the FBI seized about three months ago—without a warrant—from the U.S. Private Vaults (USPV) in Beverly Hills, California.

Eric Boehm, who reported this story for Reason last month, notes that on March 22, law enforcement officials with the bureau raided the establishment as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the business itself. The warrant allowed agents to confiscate a laundry list of things: the company's security cameras, computers, the steel frames that nest the containers. Deemed off-limits: "a criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safe-deposit boxes."

The agents were unfazed. They did it anyway, wantonly rummaging through the personal property in approximately 800 boxes—belonging to people who were not suspected of committing any crimes—and then holding those items hostage. (If you feel like getting mad today, feel free to watch them in action.)

"It's changed me," says Jennifer. "The emotional impact this has had on me is unlike anything I've ever experienced….To have this type of sustained stress, insecurity, uncertainty as to what's happening next…to constantly have to be making this a priority in your mind to get your stuff back is just, it's not only emotionally draining." She pauses. "I don't even know how to describe it….I will not look at life the same."


© Reason.com

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