LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A federal lawsuit filed against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department alleges deputies illegally seized $7 million in jewelry, artwork and other valuables last year in a raid and threatened those who asked for their property back.
According to the complaint on behalf of Simon Aragon and a dozen others, the incident began on Jan. 11, 2010, when deputies tracked down a skip loader that had been reported stolen.
The Bobcat loader was found on abandoned land north of Castaic, according to the lawsuit.
The deputies found thousands of additional items, including trailers, tractors, boats and cargo containers, and “jumped to the conclusion” that they had discovered the headquarters of a criminal ring, according to the lawsuit alleging violation of due process.
“They grabbed everything of value, and even issued a triumphant press release, saying they had busted a dangerous gang and recovered more than a million in stolen property,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Richard Gibson.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said that while he hadn’t yet seen the complaint, “lawsuits never tell the whole story. We look forward to telling the whole story.”
According to Gibson, the vacant land had long been used as an auto salvage yard, and for storage of equipment, tractors, trailers and cargo containers holding art, furniture and jewelry.
“For more than a year, the Sheriff’s Department did not (seek to) file any criminal charges, but also refused to return the property,” the attorney said. “Plaintiffs who many times asked for their property back were told they would face criminal charges if they kept asking.”
Gibson said one of the plaintiffs has been charged in state court with receiving stolen property.
The lawsuit seeks either the return of the seized property or monetary compensation for its loss.