The company that ran a Beverly Hills store that rented out safe deposit boxes has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring with customers to launder drug money.
Under the plea deal with U.S. Private Vaults Inc., the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles agreed not to file criminal charges against the company’s two owners. That decision ran counter to a recent Department of Justice policy requiring prosecutors to be more aggressive about holding individuals accountable for corporate wrongdoing.
The company admitted that it recruited drug traffickers as customers and used the illicit proceeds to run the business. It also acknowledged that people at the company sold cocaine, arranged drug deals at the store and instructed customers how to structure cash transactions to dodge currency reporting requirements.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on the deal, which was signed in November and filed in court on Wednesday.
The government will be hard-pressed to collect any fines that might be levied at sentencing; U.S. Private Vaults has virtually no assets, according to Michael Singer, the Nevada attorney who negotiated the deal for the company.
The U.S. Private Vaults store on Olympic Boulevard was put out of business in March 2021, when federal agents executing a search warrant hauled away all of its safe deposit boxes, along with at least $86 million in cash and millions of dollars more in jewelry and valuables that customers stashed inside them.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Brown, who is leading the investigation, has branded most of the store’s roughly 800 customers as “criminals” in court papers. But the government has charged no customer with any crime.
The judge who approved the search warrant explicitly barred the government from conducting any “criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safety deposit boxes,” ordering agents instead to identify the owners and return their belongings.
Yet the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office have sought to confiscate the contents of 369 of the boxes that were seized, alleging that the money, precious metals, watches and other goods that they contained were the fruit of unspecified criminal activity.
After a slew of lawsuits accusing prosecutors of trampling on the rights of box holders, the government has returned tens of millions of dollars in cash and valuables to customers who said they were falsely accused of wrongdoing.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Michael Finnegan on MSN / Los Angeles Times
Published: March 03, 2022
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