A New Mexico man says Oklahoma sheriff’s deputies seized more than $ 140,000 from him and his business partner on unfounded suspicions of drug trafficking, and a local news outlet found the records to back up their story.
Last week, the Oklahoma News 4 news outlet reported Thai Nang, a businessman from New Mexico, claimed that the Canada County Sheriff’s Office seized approximately $ 141,500 in cash from him and his partner during a traffic stop in April.
Nang says he and a business partner were traveling to buy land when they were detained. Sheriff’s deputies searched the car and found the money. Nang alleges that when he tried to explain that it was for the purchase of a property, an agent replied: “I am 300 percent sure it is illegal money.”
There is nothing illegal about traveling with large amounts of cash, but the police often claim that it is the result of drug trafficking. Under a practice called civilian asset forfeiture, the police can seize property suspected of being related to criminal activity, even when the owner has not been charged with any crime.
Many seizure stories begin this way, with travelers saying they were carrying large amounts of cash to buy vehicles, deposit it in a bank account, Or simply gamble on vacation.
In Nang’s case, however, there are records to support her story.
News 4, investigators apparently more intrepid than the sheriff’s office, obtained the bill of sale and interviewed the owner from whom Nang intended to purchase the property.
“It was a verbal deal and they were on their way back to town to finish it,” the property owner told News 4. “It was $ 100,000 for the land and then they needed, I think, $ 30-40,000 to upgrade the electricity. and water for its operation. Why didn’t you look at the bill of sale we have? “
Nang also claims that the amount the sheriff’s office reported seizing is roughly $ 10,000 less than the actual amount.
The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, says Oklahoma’s flexible forfeiture laws allow such abuses.
“Canadian County, Oklahoma, is a highway interdiction point and this latest attempt to seize money belonging to out-of-state business owners seems to illustrate how easily Oklahoma forfeiture laws can be abused,” says the Senior Attorney at the Institute of Justice, Dan Alban. “Additionally, there is a history of racial disparity in seizures and forfeits in Canadian County, as well as several other populous Oklahoma counties, and this appears to be the most recent example.”
For example, the Institute of Justice represented a Burmese refugee named Eh Wah. In 2016, Wah was driving across the country as the manager of a Christian band that was raising money for a Burmese orphanage. When Muskogee County Sheriff’s Deputies stopped the band’s touring van, they found $ 53,000 in cash that the band had raised.
Although not a single iota of drugs was found in Eh Wah’s truck, agents confiscated the money, claiming it was drug product. The sheriff’s office returned the money to Wah two months later, the same day that The Washington Post posted a story about his case.
More than half of all US states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform in the past decade, as similar histories of abuse have accumulated. Earlier this month, Maine became the fourth state to completely abolish civil asset forfeiture.
But until more states require convictions or raise the level of evidence before property can be seized, more cases like Nang and Wah will continue to appear.
The Canada County Sheriff’s Office was not immediately available for comment.