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Taking Stock: Patriot Act does not allow access to safe-deposit box

Published: October 16, 2011

Dear Mr. Berko: I have what I consider to be a lot of cash and gold coins that I want to put into a safe-deposit box. But my broker told me that according to an article he read, the federal government can open safe-deposit boxes. He told me that a secret executive order during the Roosevelt administration in 1933 allows the government to seal all safe-deposit boxes in banks and financial institutions.

What can I do with the gold coins that I want to secure and the cash that I don't want to put in a tin can in my backyard? Is there any way to stop the government from taking my money or my property? The government doesn't own the banks, so how can it do this, anyway?

CS, Waterloo, Iowa

Dear WS: The government controls all banks. As long as we ask the government to insure deposits and money market funds, and as long as we ask the government to regulate deposits, lending practices, credit cards and the like, the government can do anything it wants to do. And yes, there's little we can do to stop the government from sealing from our safe-deposit boxes if it really wants to.

But I'm a silly millimeter away from being 100 percent certain there's nothing in your broker's literature that speaks about the Roosevelt administration issuing an order to seal bank safe-deposit boxes. I think your broker must be recovering from recent brain surgery, or his slinky got kinked.

Executive Order 6102 is real, and it was issued in 1933 by President Roosevelt. Its purpose was to order American citizens to turn in their gold, and it forbade the ownership of gold or gold coins. There is nothing in 6102 to suggest that safe-deposit boxes could be sealed. Still, if the government can forbid Americans to own gold, perhaps ...

Now, some readers believe that the Patriot Act legislation states that during a bank holiday, the Department of Homeland Security has the right to open all safe-deposit boxes and that there is a list of property agents can confiscate, including guns, cash and precious metals. Well, I want all you conspiracy theorists to know that this is pure tommyrot and balderdash. My daughter is an attorney (one of the good ones), and she's read that act backwards, forwards, inside, outside, up, down and sideways — and she says the Patriot Act doesn't even mention bank holidays.

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