Last week, Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge dismissed a civil forfeiture case and a criminal charge against Eh Wah, the volunteer U.S. tour manager for a Burmese Christian rock band. Loge dropped the case less than a day after the Institute for Justice announced it would be representing Eh Wah, the band and other innocent owners, including a Thai orphanage, in challenging the civil forfeiture of more than $53,000 of cash seized by Muskogee County law enforcement.
Eh Wah was pulled over by a Sheriff’s deputy in Muskogee County for a broken brake light on February 27. He was driving from Des Moines, Iowa—where he had dropped off two band members—to Dallas, Texas to surprise his parents during a tour break. Though no drugs were found in the car, the deputies found over $53,000 in cash in various gift bags, envelopes, and other bags and packages. The deputies continued questioning Eh Wah on the side of the road for up to an hour. Eh Wah tried to explain how the money was organized, and that most of the money had been raised for charity in the 19 cities the band had already played at on the tour. “Whatever I say just create more problems for myself,” Eh Wah said. “I was frustrated why they don’t try to listen.”
The deputies then escorted Eh Wah back to the Sheriff’s Office, where he was interrogated for five more hours:
“One of them, for many occasions, mentioned things like you’re going to jail tonight, a few times,” Eh Wah said. “I was like, I didn’t say anything but I thought, why you saying that? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Eh Wah was eventually released that night, but all of the cash was seized. NBC News reported what happened next:
Then on April 5, Eh Wah was charged criminally with one count of felony “acquire proceeds of drug activity,” and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Within 48 hours of learning about the warrant, Eh Wah traveled back to Muskogee and turned himself in on April 8.
“That’s the part that really scared me,” Eh Wah said. “I wasn’t doing anything, and being charged with a felony like that — who would have thought?”
Thankfully, the criminal charge against Eh Wah and the civil forfeiture case for the cash were both dismissed by the Muskogee County DA on April 25. Eh Wah’s case is a high-profile example of forfeiture abuse in Oklahoma, but there are many more examples that don’t receive so much news coverage. According to the Institute for Justice’s recently updated report, Policing for Profit, Oklahoma forfeited nearly $99 million from 2000 to 2014, with 72 percent coming from seized cash.
Last year, State Sen. Kyle Loveless proposed a SB838, a bill designed to curb forfeiture abuse, but Sen. Anthony Sykes, the chairman of Oklahoma’s Senate Judiciary Committee, prevented that bill from even receiving a hearing.