When federal agents descended on a Beverly Hills strip mall last month, it took them five days to seize the contents of hundreds of safe deposit boxes inside a store called U.S. Private Vaults.
On Friday, the government revealed why it was so interested in the seemingly mundane business wedged between a nail salon and a spa: It was laundering money for drug dealers and letting them stash guns, fentanyl and stacks of $100 bills in security boxes that were rented anonymously, prosecutors alleged.
In an indictment against U.S. Private Vaults, Inc., the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles accused the company of marketing itself deliberately to attract criminals, saying it brazenly promoted itself as a place customers could store valuables with confidence that tax authorities would be hard-pressed to learn their identities or what was stored in their locked boxes. To access the facility, customers needed no identification; it took just an eye and hand scan to unlock the door.
“We don’t even want to know your name,” it advertised, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also allege that an owner and employees of the company were involved in drug sales that took place at the business and helped customers convert cash into gold in amounts that would avoid suspicion.
Even before charges were announced, the case set off a court fight over the legality of the government’s seizure of the contents of every safe deposit box in the store. Earlier this week, one customer went to court claiming that the government overreached by confiscating the belongings in every security box without showing why it suspected each person of committing crimes.
Armed with a warrant, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the business on March 22. They took several days to go through all the boxes and move the valuables to an FBI warehouse, according to court papers.
Here’s their web promotional video: