In yet another embarrassing and confusing case, civil asset forfeiture has struck again. Deputies in Muskogee pulled over Eh Wah for a broken tail light in late February. For some reason the
deputies on the scene decided they needed to search the car for drugs.
Side note – Wah is a refugee from Burma and has lived in the US for 10 years, and he has no drug related criminal history. He is the manager of a Christian rock band that throws benefit concerts to raise money for orphanages and schools in Southeast Asia.
When authorities searched Wah’s car, they didn’t find any drugs or drug paraphernalia. They did, however, find around $53,000 in cash. Some of the cash was Wah’s personal money, but most of it was from donations for schools and orphanages in Burma and Thailand the band had collected.
Wah, who is not a native english speaker, tried to explain where the money came from, but Sheriff wasn’t satisfied, citing “inconsistent stories.” After six hours of custody Wah was release, but the money was seized.
Five weeks later they charged Wah with “acquiring proceeds from drug activity, a felony.”
This story caused a media firestorm and Wah was thankfully able to get legal help from the Institute for Justice.
Last Monday Wah went to court. Thanks to his legal team and support from the community, the DA dropped all charges and returned the money.
“I looked at the case and met with the officers, and determined that we would not be able to meet the burden of proof in the criminal case and in the civil case.” said Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge.
Taking money from orphans is sad, but what’s sadder is that if this story didn’t get so much attention and Wah didn’t get legal help, the money would still be in the hands of the authorities. Stories like Wah’s aren’t rare, but the fact is that he got his money back is.
Far too often victims of civil asset forfeiture are helplessly lost. The burden of proof is placed on the owner to prove their innocence, which is hard to do without a lawyer.
These laws can’t continue to rob our neighbors blind. Please call your state legislators and demand civil asset forfeiture reform.