Non-profit public interest law firm Institute for Justice has filed two lawsuits against the FBI on behalf of clients who allegedly had property seized from their safety deposit boxes in a March 2021 FBI raid.

The raid occurred on the Beverly Hills–based U.S. Private Vaults.

The clients allege the FBI did not return valuable rare coins and other property seized during the raid.

“All we know is that their property was in a box and safe before the FBI broke into the box,” Institute for Justice attorney Joe Gay told Fox News.

“Once the FBI broke into the box, we honestly don’t know exactly what happened. We don’t know if they lost it. We don’t know if somebody pocketed it and walked away. We have no way to know,” he continued.

Fox News reports:

The Institute for Justice filed two lawsuits Friday on behalf of clients who had property seized from their safety deposit boxes in a March 2021 FBI raid on U.S. Private Vaults, a Beverly Hills–based company. After prevailing in court, and the FBI agreeing to return their property, both Don Mellein and Jeni Pearsons discovered some of their property was missing and suspect the FBI’s haphazard raid or sticky fingers are to blame.

“There’s literally been no explanation,” Pearsons said. “I think you have to assume that it’s the simplest explanation, and I think, unfortunately, the simplest explanation is they took it or lost it.”

Mellein, a 79-year-old retired civil servant, kept cash and 110 gold coins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in his box to safeguard his financial security. He invested in the precious metals with the proceeds after he and his wife sold their Malibu home in 2002.

Pearsons and her husband Michael Storc similarly rented a security deposit box in 2017 as a financial safeguard, storing around $20,000 in silver and $2,000 in cash.

Neither Mellein nor Pearson were charged with a crime. The FBI had been investigating U.S. Private Vaults, which shut down following the raid and ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money.

According to Just the News, the FBI has returned only 47 out of 110 coins from Mellein’s box.

“The FBI had no reason to go through my box and they were careless in losing my savings,” Mellein said, according to the outlet.

“For months I was told they didn’t have any of my coins before they eventually found some of them,” he added.

Per Just the News:

Jeni Pearsons said she had $2,000 worth of cash in a box that was taken during the raid and it has not been returned.


“Could be that the way that the FBI and the law enforcement carried this out is just really sloppy work,” she said. “Or there was never any intention of giving it back, and so it really didn’t matter because they thought they just got to keep everything. So to them, there was one pile.”

Gay said he hopes the latest lawsuits help other victims of civil asset forfeiture.

“We’re basically fighting against the notion that people shouldn’t have a remedy against the government when the government takes their property,” he said.

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