JPMorgan accused of selling $10 million in jewels from bank deposit boxes

A couple claimed that JPMorgan sent the bills for the boxes to a wrong address, causing them to fall behind in their account. They said they paid the delinquency in full after discovering it, and JPMorgan promised to return the property stored in the boxes. But the bank instead auctioned off the contents.

Bloomberg
First Published24 Mar 2023
JPMorgan Chase and Co. and Morgan Stanley would benefit most from changes to post-crisis banking rules proposed by Donald Trump’s administration, with pre-tax profit jumping 22%. Photo: Bloomberg
JPMorgan Chase and Co. and Morgan Stanley would benefit most from changes to post-crisis banking rules proposed by Donald Trump’s administration, with pre-tax profit jumping 22%. Photo: Bloomberg

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is facing a suit by a couple who claim the bank sold $10 million in jewelry and other valuables that they stored in safe deposit boxes.

Jorge and Stella Araneta said that JPMorgan sent the bills for the boxes to a wrong address, causing them to fall behind in their account. They claim they paid the delinquency in full after discovering it, and JPMorgan promised to return the property stored in the boxes. But the bank instead auctioned off the contents.

US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald on Wednesday threw out one of the 2022 suit’s claims under New York banking law, but the case is proceeding with negligence and other counts. 

JPMorgan declined to comment on the decision. In court filings, the bank has said a delinquency remained and that it sent warnings to the Aranetas before the auction. JPMorgan decided to stop offering new safe deposit boxes as of December 2021. 

The couple, who reside in the Philippines but have a Manhattan apartment on Park Avenue, sued the bank last year. They claim they’d leased safe deposit boxes at JPMorgan branches in New York City starting in 2006 after the bank bought and had renewed them annually, with payments deducated from their checking accounts and sending invoices and statements to addresses in Manhattan and Miami. 

In March 2016 the bank mailed notices about the renewal of two of the boxes, warning that they would be drilled open and the contents removed if payments weren’t received within 60 days, the Aranetas claim. According to the suit, those notices weren’t sent to the New York or Miami addresses but to a PO Box in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the Aranetas say they never saw them. 

In February 2017, the bank drilled into four of the couple’s seven boxes, removed the contents and transferred them to a secure location. The couple claims they learned in October 2019 that the boxes had been opened and brought their accounts current, after which JPMorgan allegedly assured them their valuables would be returned.

But the bank sold the contents at auction less than 10 months later for a total of more than $552,700, according to the suit. The Aranetas claim that’s only a fraction of what the contents — consisting mostly of precious metals, jewelry and coins — were worth. They put the value at between $8 million and $10 million. 

The bank said in a response to the complaint that Stella Araneta hadn’t submitted payment on some of the boxes for a number of years and that it sent multiple rounds of correspondence to addresses that it had on file. While it admitted that some payments were made on the boxes in October 2019, the bank said it sent further notices in July 2020 warning the contents would be sold at auction later that year if payment wasn’t made in full.

JPMorgan also says Stella Araneta wrote multiple checks bearing the Louisiana address.

The case is Araneta v JPMorgan Chase Bank, 22-cv-2346, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

 

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