How Oklahoma cops took $53,000 from a Burmese Christian rock band

Muskogee County Sheriff's Office seized $53,234 intended for an orphanage and a religious college.

In Oklahoma, authorities announced that they would be returning over $53,000 in seized assets that it took from Eh Wah, a man who was pulled over in February while carrying the cash for a Burmese Christian rock band that had been raising funds for an orphanage in Thailand. They've also dropped a felony criminal charge against Eh Wah, who had been falsely accused of "acquiring proceeds from drug activity."

How police took $53,000 from a Christian band, an orphanage and a church

Not-so-coincidentally, the announcement came shortly after The Washington Post published a report about Eh Wah's plight. On February 27, a sheriff's deputy seized $53,234 in cash from Eh Wah, the volunteer tour manager for Klo & Kweh Music Team, a Burmese Christian music group on a tour of the United States.

Eh Wah had been driving with a broken tail light, and the deputy who pulled him over suspected that he was carrying drug money, despite having found no drugs or paraphernalia in his car. The cash was from concert ticket and merchandise sales and donations, much of it earmarked for an orphanage in Thailand, and some for a religious college back in Burma. Absolutely none of the money was derived from drug sales.

Again: no drugs, paraphernalia or weapons in the car. Eh Wah tried to explain where the cash came from -- it was difficult because English isn't his first language -- but officers weren't satisfied. He was taken to the police station for more questioning, and after six hours, eventually let go without any charges.

But the officers kept the money.

Under Oklahoma's insanely permissive civil forfeiture law, the Muskogee County Sheriff's Office could seize all $53,234 from Eh Wah's car based on ridiculously little evidence. Over a month after he was pulled over, the district attorney charged him with "acquiring proceeds from drug activity" -- despite no evidence of any actual contraband -- and the money was seized for evidence.

But after The Washington Post story was published, Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge decided to dismiss both the civil case (the cash seizure) and the criminal charge against Eh Wah.

"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," Loge said in an interview. He also cited the press coverage of the story and said that his office has heard from "a lot of citizens" who were upset about the details of the case.

Let's be real: the case never should have gotten this far. Shouldn't they have figured out whether the case met the burden of proof before filing charges and pocketing $53,000? But I guess that was before the case started receiving national attention.

More here: Why Oklahoma cops are returning $53,000 to a Christian band, an orphanage and a church


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