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US Store Pleads Guilty To Recruiting Drug Traffickers One Year After FBI Raid

A company that ran a store that rented safety deposit boxes in Beverly Hills, California, agreed to plead guilty to conspiring with its customers to launder drug money, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles will not file any criminal charges against the company owners as a result of the plea deal, the LA Times reported. The company reportedly admitted to recruiting drug traffickers as customers, using the proceeds of the illicit activity to fund its business.

Federal agents raided the U.S. Private Vaults store in March 2021, taking away the entirety of its safety deposit boxes. Over $86 million in cash and millions of dollars more in jewelry were seized.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Brown, who is leading the investigation, labeled the roughly 800 customers at the store “criminals” in court filings, but no charges have been filed against any of them, the LA Times reported.

About 300 people reportedly contested the seizure of their money and valuables in the aftermath of the raid, and the government has returned more than $10 million to the customers, the LA Times reported.

“It was a complete violation of my privacy,” Joseph Ruiz, from whose box the FBI seized $57,000, told The LA Times in September 2021. “They tried to discredit my character.”

The FBI alleged the money they took from Ruiz was too much for him to have accumulated from his income and that a dog had smelled unspecified contraband on his cash. Once Ruiz produced records showing his source for the money was legitimate, the FBI dropped the accusation and gave back his money.

Lawyers for box holders said the most revealing part of the plea deal was that U.S. Private Vaults Inc. agreed to drop its objection to prosecutors’ pursuit of forfeiture on 369 safe deposit boxes, a waiver that could give the government more capacity to confiscate the contents.

“The constitutional and moral bankruptcy of the U.S. attorney’s office” was exposed in the deal, Benjamin Gluck, an attorney who has recovered more than $25 million for box holders, told the LA Times. “They’re willing to give immunity to an admitted criminal so long as he doesn’t interfere with their illegal scheme to seize money from innocent box holders.”

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