Federal Law Enforcement Stage Bank Heist

If taxation is theft, as so many people—myself included—claim, then the federal government has a long history of stealing people’s stuff.

However, that’s a matter for debate and we all know there’s at least somewhat of a difference between taxes and stealing stuff.

Yet a recent story popped up over at Reason that leads me to wonder if the feds ever bothered to consider the difference.

Basically, they staged a bank heist.

After a brief moment of panic, some phone calls, and several days, Dagny and her husband Howard (pseudonyms used at their request to maintain privacy during ongoing legal proceedings) figured out what happened. On March 22, the FBI had raided U.S. Private Vaults. The federal agents were armed with a warrant allowing them to seize property belonging to the company as part of a criminal investigation—and even though the warrant explicitly exempted the safe deposit boxes in the company's vaults, they were taken too. More than 800 were seized.

Howard tells Reason there was no attempt made by the FBI to contact him, his wife, or their heirs—despite the fact that contact information was taped to the top of their box. Six weeks later, the couple is still waiting for their property to be returned. (Both individuals are supporters of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.)

The FBI and federal prosecutors have "no authority to continue holding the possessions of some 800 bystanders who are not alleged to have been involved in whatever USPV may have done wrong," Benjamin Gluck, a California attorney who is representing several of the people caught up in the FBI's raid of U.S. Private Vaults, tells Reason.

Legal efforts to force the FBI to return the items seized during the March 22 raid have so far been unsuccessful, but at least five lawsuits are pending in federal court.

In other words, they knew damn good and well that they couldn’t take the contents of the safe deposit boxes, but they did it anyway.

What’s more, they don’t seem to be interested in giving people their stuff back, despite being in violation of the initial warrant.

How is this not a bank heist? Just because they don’t seem to be profiting from this—not yet, anyway—it doesn’t change the fact that they’re stealing people’s stuff. What’s more, thanks to qualified immunity, no one involved in this will be punished by the legal system, and that’s a big problem.

See, everyone involved can make the case that their actions are within the scope of their jobs. Because of that, they’re immune to prosecution for what is a clearcut case of theft.

That just ain’t right.


What’s more, it’s going to cost people more money to get their stuff back than some of the stuff is even worth.

The FBI claims that while some of the box holders are honest citizens, they maintain that many of the box holders were criminals who took advantage of the anonymity provided by the company.

To that, I simply ask, “So the hell what?”

Unless those other box holders have been convicted of something and those particular boxes were seized due to that conviction, it doesn’t freaking matter what those people may or may not have done.

I know, I know, bad people suck. Criminals suck. Yet the government’s assertion that they’re criminals simply isn’t enough to justify taking stuff without a warrant, which is precisely what we’re talking about here.

Heads need to roll.

However, while this country has so many things to love about it, the fact that people will get away with this continues to be a problem for me. It damn sure should be a problem for you, too.

It’s well past time we fix our system so those responsible can be held accountable. This should be a non-partisan issue, too, though I just don’t see this happening.

At a minimum, though, everyone who had stuff in those safe deposit boxes needs to get their stuff back, regardless of whether they’re considered criminals or not. Even then, it’s up to lawmakers to make it so this doesn’t happen again.

The question is, does anyone in Washington have the balls to do it?