DA cash seizure challenged in Canadian County

N.M. men claim deputy unlawfully confiscated funds meant for land purchase

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By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

A court hearing is set Friday after two New Mexico men challenged the District Attorney’s attempt to seize more than $130,000 in U.S. currency.

Weichuan Liu and Nang Thai, both of Albuquerque, N.M., claim they had funds unlawfully confiscated this spring by the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office after a traffic stop in El Reno.

The Canadian County District Attorney’s Office on April 22 filed an “application and notice of seizure and intended forfeiture” in Canadian County District Court.

Some $131,502 in currency and money orders was seized April 19 from Liu and Thai by a Canadian County sheriff’s deputy, court documents show.

The petitioner, represented by Assistant District Attorney Mitchell Thrower, has asserted the currency should be forfeited “for one or more” of these reasons:

  • The currency was furnished, or intended to be furnished, in exchange for a controlled dangerous substance,
  • The currency is traceable to such an exchange, or
  • The currency or monies that were used, or intended to be used, to facilitate a violation of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act.

Liu and Thai denied these allegations in an answer filed May 10 by their attorney, Richard W. Anderson of Oklahoma City.

“Claimants (Liu and Thai) deny the currency is a thing of value that was acquired during a period of one or more violations of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, or within a reasonable time after such period and demand strict proof thereof,” the answer reads.

“Claimants object to the petitioner attempting to shift the burden of proof and object to being required to furnish the source of or intended use of the currency.”

Liu and Thai allege $141,500 in currency – $10,000 more than the DA’s notice indicates – “was unlawfully seized and taken” from them in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article II Section 30 of the Oklahoma Constitution.

The seizure of the currency will cause the claimants to suffer “irreparable harm” and “economic loss for which they should be compensated,” according to their court-filed response.

$10,000 SHORT?

In an interview with KFOR-TV, Thai said he and his business partner traveled to Oklahoma to purchase “agriculture land” in Grady County. A sheriff’s deputy searched their car and found the cash – which Thai denied was “illegal money”.

Thai also claimed $10,000 was “missing” after being “stolen” by the deputy, according to the KFOR news report.

Canadian County Assistant District Attorney Eric Epplin would not comment on the pending litigation but did refer to the claimant’s public comments.

“We’re confident that their information is not accurate,” he said.

Epplin spoke generally about the state statute that allows for the seizure of any funds from activities violating the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act.

“An out-of-state person, for example, can’t come to Oklahoma and start their own marijuana farm,” Epplin said. “You have to be a resident of the state.”

A hearing on a “motion to enter the case on nonjury docket” is set for 9 a.m. July 23 before Canadian County District Judge Jack D. McCurdy.

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