Bank Robbery by the FBI

Legal Insurrection cites the LA Times: In asking for a warrant to search private safe deposit boxes, FBI did not disclose its intention to steal everything it found worth more than $5,000.

The language in the two versions differs, as one would expect, but it is pretty strong even in the LAT version which can be expected to have no right-wing sympathies (but, probably, connections to aggrieved rich LA people who lost property in the raid). I'll quote from that one.

FBI misled judge who signed warrant for Beverly Hills seizure of $86 million in cash

The privacy invasion was vast when FBI agents drilled and pried their way into 1,400 safe-deposit boxes at the U.S. Private Vaults store in Beverly Hills.

They rummaged through personal belongings of a jazz saxophone player, an interior designer, a retired doctor, a flooring contractor, two Century City lawyers and hundreds of others....

Eighteen months later, newly unsealed court documents show that the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles got their warrant for that raid by misleading the judge who approved it.

They omitted from their warrant request a central part of the FBI’s plan: Permanent confiscation of everything inside every box containing at least $5,000 in cash or goods, a senior FBI agent recently testified.

The FBI’s justification for the dragnet forfeiture was its presumption that hundreds of unknown box holders were all storing assets somehow tied to unknown crimes, court records show.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but that looks like a prima facie, plain language violation of the 4th Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No warrants shall issue except on probable cause of a crime, not a presumption that unknown crimes may have occurred; and property to be seized is to be particularly described, not just generally entailed by a broad warrant. 

That police are not supposed to keep from the judge that the purpose of the raid is to collect vast wealth and then keep it didn't make it into the text, probably because the Founders thought you'd need a letter of marque and reprisal for that kind of wholesale privateering and seizure. That was already covered in Article I, Sec. 8:

"To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water[.]"

This should have required issuance of such a letter by Congress, following a declaration of war on the people (citizens of Los Angeles, I suppose) who were to be subject to such piratical predations by armed agents of the state. 


Aggie said...

Not only that, but the FBI fought long and hard to prevent this story to be disclosed in the first place. I understand it took a lawsuit filed on behalf of the pillaged victims to get the documentation of their lyin' ways.

Trust you're ready for a ton of rain and maybe some wind over the next few days.

Grim said...

I’m working on it. We have a meeting tomorrow evening to make sure the chainsaws and rescue equipment are ready to go.

douglas said...

I bet they didn't even wear silk scarves on their heads. Really not fair even to compare them to pirates.

Joel Leggett said...

Increasingly, the FBI has become a law unto itself. The recent case of Mark Houck's arrest is only another current example.

Larry said...

Would the letter of marque be appropriate for a Federal agency? If this had been done by a private company such as Pinkerton’s, a letter of marque would be the mechanism. I’m not an expert, and in the Hall, I’m surrounded by people smarter and more widely read. It seems to me that you’re right, Grim, the Government would have to declare that LA was in a state of war/rebellion against the US, otherwise this is simply unlawful search and seizure. I bet many of the folks affected thought red flag laws were a great idea (and perhaps still do), until this happened.

Grim said...

The Constitution doesn't actually ponder a federal police force anything like the FBI, except insofar as it provides clear limits on the powers of the government to engage in things like search and seizure without warrants. I just thought of privateers because they were engaged in similar seizures-and-keepings under Federal authority; you're right, it would be a better fit to hire private actors and then subject their seizures to the equivalent of an Admiralty Court.

E Hines said...

Letters of marque are generally used in time of war against enemy nations, or against high seas--i.e., non-domestic--pirates and the like.

I don't know of anything like letters of marque for use against a nation's own citizens. Those are usually Gestapo or Stasi.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

Well, if we're trying to combine the Stasi with privateers, how about the Sturmabteilung?

E Hines said...

if we're trying to combine the Stasi with privateers

I'm not. Stasi were outright government police. Sturmabteilung comes closer to operating under a sort of domestically aimed letter of marque, as do the Basij, even if the latter are, formally, an arm of the IRGC.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

Yeah, at this point I was just having fun with it. The idea of privateering SA is a bit absurd.

You're right that it most resembles the Stasi or Gestapo. I vote for the Stasi, myself, but that's more of a gut feeling than the result of any particular knowledge.