Judge Stands in the Way of Feds Over Reach


U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner is not happy with the Imperial Palace, slapping the feds on the wrist for obvious over-reach. Hizzoner wasn’t pleased at all with the “woefully” vague seizure notices they tried to send out to customers of U.S. Private Vaults. People are supposed to at least have a say in the matter before the government grabs their goods.

Judge slams on brakes

Not so fast, Judge Klausner declared, ruling that federal prosecutors crossed the tape line when they grabbed all the contents from a whole bunch of safe deposit boxes.

The inadequate notice forms said little more than they planned to keep it all, but such forfeitures without proper notice “likely violate customers’ constitutional due process rights.” Constitution? Oh that thing. It’s been debunked now that Trump’s gone the feds think.

The Federal District Court judge put his pen into action and signed off on a temporary restraining order to keep the feds on a legal leash. The order prevents the palace from “initiating civil forfeiture against four individuals who sought return of their valuables.”

The federal case can’t go forward until the lawyers cough up the “specific factual and legal basis” for the action. In other words, the fishing trip is over.

Palace officials have until Tuesday, June 29, to come up with some convincing answers. They have to explain to Judge Klausner why he shouldn’t “issue a preliminary injunction, which would halt planned forfeitures until the merits of the case were decided.” Oh no, they groan, knowing that will take months.

The ruling is clearly “a black eye for the feds, who claimed USPV intentionally lured criminal activity.” Prosecutors had everyone believing that “its customers were an undifferentiated mass of drug dealers and money launderers.” Surprisingly, they “did not charge any customers with crimes.” All they did was seize their belongings. Have a nice day!

Sharks smelling blood

Some lawyers over at the Institute for Justice got word of the controversy. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, they circled around four plaintiffs.

A married couple Jeni Verdon-Pearsons and Michael Storc are half of the case. Joseph Ruiz and Travis May are also named as plaintiffs but the four of them represent the whole class of “USPV customers, some of whom have not identified themselves.” They believe they have a right to challenge the seizures. The judge agrees.

Uncle Sam is trying to hijack a cool “$85 million in cash, precious metals, heirlooms and other valuables.” They plan to boost it from “customers who have not been accused of wrongdoing as part of the USPV prosecution.” Their stuff was in a box in the same vault as some criminal evidence so it’s all up for grabs is the palace way of looking at things.

They have a Green New Deal to pay for so they need all the green they can grab. Judge Klausner did hold back a little. He “declined to cover all USPV customers whose boxes were seized without ‘specific legal and factual basis’ in the TRO.” He narrowed things down to just the four primary Plaintiffs. He also refused to turn it into a class action.

One of the IJ attorneys, Rob Johnson, explained that even though the judge didn’t spell it out by certifying the class action, the “reasoning” of the order makes it clear that it also applies to “the hundreds of safe deposit box renters caught in the FBI raid of USPV, regardless of the judge’s limitation on the relief.”

That means, if “the government presses forward with these forfeitures now, it will be defying the court.” Another Plaintiff lawyer, Benjamin Gluck, notes the government would have to “try to prove a real case for forfeiture” against everyone whose boxes it seized and refuses to return. He’s skeptical that it can.

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