The FBI seized over $3 million worth of cannabis in a raid on a dispensary in Beverly Hills, California. But the owners say they’ve never sold any marijuana to anyone under 21, and are demanding proof that their product was confiscated by law enforcement.
The fbi seized is a story about the FBI seizing $3.8 million worth of cannabis in Beverly Hills, California. The owners of the property say that they have proof that this was not their marijuana and are demanding to see it.
After the FBI took Joseph Ruiz’s life savings during a raid on a Beverly Hills safe deposit box company, the jobless chef went to court to get his $57,000 back. A court asked the government to explain why it was attempting to seize the funds from Ruiz. According to court documents, it stemmed from narcotics trafficking. The agent stated that Ruiz’s salary was too low for him to have so much money, and that his side business selling bongs fashioned from liquor bottles indicated he was an illegal marijuana dealer.
A dog sniffed unidentified narcotics on Ruiz’s cash, according to the FBI. The FBI was incorrect. The government withdrew its erroneous allegation and restored Ruiz’s money when he provided documents proving the source of his funds was genuine.
Ruiz is one of around 800 individuals whose money and belongings were taken by the FBI from safe deposit boxes they leased at the U.S. Private Vaults shop in an Olympic Boulevard strip mall. Federal investigators had believed thieves were stashing treasure there for years, and they claim they discovered it. The government is attempting to seize $86 million in cash, as well as a stockpile of jewelry, rare coins, and precious metals, which were stolen from about half of the boxes. The FBI and the US attorney’s office in Los Angeles have provided no proof of criminal conduct by the overwhelming majority of box holders whose possessions the government is attempting to retain six months after the raid.
The attempted expropriation is being challenged by around 300 of the box holders. Ruiz and 65 others have filed lawsuits alleging that the dragnet forfeiture operation is illegal. Ruiz said, “It was a total invasion of my privacy.” “They attempted to undermine my reputation.”
To support the forfeitures, prosecutors have cited previous criminal convictions or ongoing accusations against 11 box holders. However, court documents indicate that the government’s reasoning for alleging that the money and property it confiscated was linked to criminality in many other instances is no stronger than it was in the case of Ruiz. Rubber bands and other common ways of keeping cash, according to federal investigators, were indicators of drug trafficking or money laundering.
Dogs alerting to the smell of drugs on the majority of the cash is also cited as crucial proof. However, the government claims that it placed all of the money it confiscated in a bank, making it difficult to determine which medicines came into touch with which banknotes and when.
Mary Cablk, a Nevada scientist and expert witness on drug dogs for both prosecution and defense attorneys, stated, “You really don’t know anything until that money is run through a lab.” A canine alert to drug residue on banknotes “may be true” or “might be utter nonsense.”
In February, U.S. Private Vaults was charged with collaborating with unidentified clients to sell narcotics, launder money, and arrange cash transactions in order to avoid government discovery. No one has been charged.
Since then, there has been no appearance in court by an attorney or other representative of U.S. Private Vaults to enter a plea. The US attorney’s office in Los Angeles refused to comment on why the case seems to have come to a halt.
Michael Singer, a Las Vegas attorney who has defended US Private Vaults in the past, refused to comment on the allegations against the company, but said he was unaware of any illegal conduct by its owners. He further claimed that the government went “overboard” in its search, seizure, and attempted confiscation of the clients’ money and property.
Prosecutors allege that U.S. Private Vaults deliberately advertised itself to criminals by emphasizing that consumers may rent boxes anonymously in documents responding to 15 lawsuits and other claims made by box holders seeking the restoration of their possessions.
In court documents, a US postal inspector said that Michael Poliak, the business’s owner, confessed to profiting from healthcare fraud and illicit marijuana sales. Poliak was unavailable for comment.
The government’s whole effort, according to some box holders’ attorneys, is a “money grab” to get tens of millions of dollars for the Justice Department via forfeiture. The US attorney’s office disputed this, saying that part of the money it recovers would go to crime victims.
There is no need for a criminal conviction in civil forfeitures. The government just has to show that the money or property it wants to seize is more than likely connected to illegal conduct.
In the forfeiture lawsuit filed Monday against two brothers from Woodland Hills, the proof standard was lax. The government wants to retain the $960,100 in cash and the $519,000 it seized from one of their safe deposit boxes.
The forfeiture is justified, according to prosecutors, because of theft, fraud, and money laundering. However, the sole proof in the complaint was that one of the brothers — it didn’t specify which one — had allegedly “been in touch with” suspected armed robberies of mobile phone shops.
Benjamin Gluck, their lawyer, described the lawsuit as “an outrageous and unlawful misuse of authority.”
In another forfeiture case, prosecutors used shaky evidence to seize more than $900,000 from a box holder whose name they couldn’t figure out. He was suspected of being “either a top-level narcotics trafficker or a money launderer,” according to them.
The manner the individual wrapped his cash in thick, thin, and broken rubber bands; tightly tape-wrapped paper; bank bands; and plastic CVS and paper Good Neighbor pharmacy bags were among the “indicia” of those crimes.
The box holder has filed a lawsuit under the alias Charles Coe, contesting the confiscation of his funds.
Gluck, who represented Coe, refused to comment on the case specifically, but said that U.S. Private Vaults clients “included many immigrant business owners who fled oppressive regimes where institutions are dangerous and have accumulated large sums of cash as their life savings over many, many years.”
“It’s ridiculous to think that the old rubber bands imply they’re drug dealers,” he added.
The only other piece of evidence the government has against Coe is a drug dog alarm on his cash.
In law enforcement circles, the decreasing usefulness of dog alerts as more states legalize marijuana is widely recognized. Drug dogs that warn for marijuana are being retired throughout the country, while new ones are being trained to detect just cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
However, Smithy, the LAPD canine who smelled Coe’s cash, is also trained to sniff out drugs. According to his handler, Officer Dolores Suviate, Smithy’s work as a drug dog resulted in the recovery of more marijuana than the other three narcotics combined throughout his eight-year tenure.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in cash pass through marijuana companies every day, experts say, leaving a noticeable stench on banknotes that end up in the hands of individuals who aren’t sellers or users.
According to box holders’ attorneys, at least two boxes at U.S. Private Vaults held significant amounts of money from registered marijuana companies that are unable to establish bank accounts owing to federal laws prohibiting the sale and possession of the substance. Because the safe deposit boxes were not sealed, the smell of marijuana was able to spread.
Prosecutors filed charges on Friday to seize money from additional box holders. The government sought forfeiture of $154,600 in cash from one box holder and $330,000 from another in two of the charges. Apart from the dog warnings, the primary evidence was that both had sought unsuccessfully for state licenses to sell marijuana, implying that “the finances are drug-related,” according to Assistant United States Attorneys Victor Rodgers and Maxwell Coll.
Dog alerts on cash, according to a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office, are “strong evidence” of narcotics offenses, but they are “not the sole element leading to probable cause,” according to Thom Mrozek.
He said, “Using dogs to detect marijuana-tainted money is absolutely acceptable.” “First and foremost, marijuana is prohibited under federal law. However, under California law, it is also unlawful to trade in marijuana without a valid license.”
Ruiz was never charged with a crime, according to Mrozek, but the authorities established “probable cause to suspect that the money in his box were connected to narcotics trafficking.”
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner halted the government’s forfeiture proceedings against Ruiz and three others in preliminary decisions, citing the absence of any “particular factual and legal foundation” as a violation of their due process rights.
Klausner also concluded that “the facts and the law plainly support Ruiz” in his allegation that the FBI violated the 4th Amendment’s prohibitions on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Outside the U.S. Private Vaults shop on West Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills, Joseph Ruiz.
The potential that Klausner or another court may accept the box holders’ request for a judgment that the whole raid on U.S. Private Vaults was illegal looms over the legal battles. Prosecutors’ ability to utilize evidence taken from safe-deposit boxes in both forfeiture and criminal prosecutions would be jeopardized.
U.S. Magistrate Steven Kim set tight restrictions on the government in warrants allowing the search and seizure of all “business equipment” at U.S. Private Vaults, expressly prohibiting federal investigators from examining the contents of each box for evidence of criminal conduct.
A statement by FBI agent Lynne Zellhart in the warrant application, submitted by Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Brown, assured Kim that agents would inspect each box “no further than necessary to determine ownership” so that belongings could be returned once the government took an inventory of the property seized.
Box-holder complaints claim that such assurances were untrue, and that agents planned to rummage through the boxes searching for evidence in the criminal investigation from the outset, despite the lack of probable cause.
According to Jane Bambauer, a law professor at the University of Arizona, the employment of drug dogs to detect cash within the boxes constituted a 4th Amendment violation under Kim’s search limitations.
“What occurred was incorrect in terms of simply real-world, commonsense judgments of how this should work,” Bambauer said. “I believe it is also obviously incorrect in terms of 4th Amendment doctrine.”
The United States Attorney’s Office denied any wrongdoing. While taking inventory of confiscated items, Mrozek said that “nothing compels the government to disregard evidence of a crime that it observes.”
“A federal court approved the search and seizure of goods from the US Private Vaults site, and the whole operation was carried out in line with the Constitution and relevant laws,” he added.
A lawyer representing Ruiz and six other box holders in a class-action complaint demanding the deletion of all data produced by the search views the case as a worrisome indication of government attempts to “criminalize financial privacy,” according to Robert E. Johnson.
“The government’s premise is that possessing cash makes you a presumed criminal, and I believe that should worry every American,” said Johnson, a senior attorney with the libertarian Institute for Justice in Virginia.
The FBI said in a court filing that the government had “probable cause” to suspect that Ruiz’s $57,000 originated from narcotics trafficking in the now-defunct Ruiz forfeiture case.
Agents investigated Ruiz’s “holysmokescrafts” email account, found his bong-making hobby, and decided that he “may be engaged in the cannabis business in other ways,” according to Zellhart.
Ruiz’s salary and tax history was examined by the FBI, and they found just $18,510 in income since 2019, which she described as “less than a third of the cash in the box.”
According to Zellhart, an FBI examination of court records turned up nothing to back up Ruiz’s assertion that his money originated from legal settlements. Under court order, the FBI returned Ruiz’s money when he provided documents proving the payments — one for a vehicle accident injury and the other for persistent housing code violations at his apartment complex.
Ruiz stated, “They robbed a bank in broad daylight.” “They didn’t even say sorry.”
The fbi investigation beverly hills is a story about how the FBI seized $3.8 million worth of cannabis from a warehouse in Beverly Hills, California. The owners of the warehouse say that they are not involved with any crime and want proof to prove their innocence.
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