America’s legal process can be long and grueling, with cases often dragging on for years at a time. But, yesterday, thanks to pressure in the court of public opinion, justice was swiftly served recently in Oklahoma. Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge indicated his office was dropping all charges against Eh Wah, a Burmese refugee charged with possession of drug proceeds, and would also drop a civil forfeiture claim and immediately return more than $53,000 in seized cash. All of this occurred just seven hours after the Institute for Justice announced it would be representing the innocent owners.
The money was seized when Eh Wah, a manager for a Burmese Christian band, was pulled over for a broken taillight while driving from Iowa back to his home in Dallas. A Muskogee County sheriff’s deputy seized more than $53,000 in cash from him. The cash consisted of proceeds from the band’s five-month-long tour, donations for an orphanage in Thailand and a cash gift for one of the band members. Eh Wah tried to explain to the officer what the cash was for, but had difficulty, as English is not his first language. The officer seized the cash after a drug dog alerted at the scene. On March 11, the Muskogee County District Attorney filed a civil forfeiture case. Then, on April 5, Muskogee County’s DA Office issued a felony warrant for Eh Wah’s arrest for possessing “proceeds from drug activity.”
After IJ announced it was representing Eh Wah and other innocent owners of the seized cash, and after an initial story by the Washington Post about the case, a tsunami of media outlets started flooding the sheriff and district attorney with inquiries about case. According the Muskogee Phoenix, Loge said, “[m]y office had a lot of calls after the Washington Post article [was published] over the weekend.”
Unfortunately, this was only the most recent time Oklahoma made headlines for forfeiture abuse. In March a grand jury indicted Wagoner County Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeff Gragg after they convinced a driver they pulled over to give them a portion of $10,000 they threated to seize during a traffic stop. Police Chief Stephen Mills became an advocate against civil forfeiture after his own vehicle was seized. His vehicle was only returned after Mills tipped off a reporter about the seizure and the reporter called the DA’s office about it.
Last year, State Sen. Kyle Loveless introduced a civil forfeiture reform bill, but it never left committee after law enforcement claimed that no abuse was occurring in the state.
In Eh Wah’s words:
This was an experience that no one should ever have to live through. It felt like something that would happen in a third-world country, but not in the United States. I’m just so happy that this is over and I hope that no one else will have to go through something like this.
Below are many of the articles written about this case so far.
The Patriot Post: Not Drug Money, Just Christian Cash for Orphans
Muskogee Phoenix: Civil and criminal cases in $53,000 seizure dismissed; money returned