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Oklahoma State Rep. Cleveland proposes using seized money to fund Trump’s border wall

OKLAHOMA CITY - As President Donald Trump backed away from demands that southern border wall funding be included in a government spending bill this week, an Oklahoma legislator put forward his own border wall funding plan using civil asset forfeitures.

State Rep. Bobby Cleveland announced Thursday he plans to bring forward an amendment that would divert civil asset forfeiture money from state law enforcement agencies and instead be used to pay for Trump's proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Civil asset forfeitures allow law enforcement agencies to confiscate money or property believed to be part of criminal activity.

"We will build the wall," the president said, doubling down on his campaign commitment to building the wall Friday as he spoke to thousands of National Rifle Association members in Atlanta. "You need that wall to stop the human trafficking, to stop the drugs, to stop the wrong people."

But funds to build the wall have been hard to come by. Mexican leaders have repeatedly said they will not pay for it, as Trump promised.

The wall is unpopular with Democrats and many Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The House approved a short-term spending bill without border wall funding Friday, avoiding a government shutdown. Earlier this week, as a Friday deadline loomed, Trump began walking back demands that border wall funding be included.

On Thursday, Oklahoma State Rep. Cleveland proposed his own way of getting border wall funds to the federal government.

"This is drug money," said Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, in a press release. "The vast majority of it is either coming from Mexico or headed there. By redirecting this cash to construction efforts, Mexico will be paying for the wall just as promised."

NewsChannel 4 reached out to talk with Cleveland about his proposal, but he was unavailable. However, in a message, he says his idea may not be the best, but at least he "stepped out with an idea to try and stop the flow of drugs into Oklahoma."

"I can appreciate where (State Rep. Cleveland) is coming from, to do that kind of a thing," said Canadian County Sheriff Chris West. "But I think those dollars -- at least it's my opinion -- best use is locally to assist us, to be able to continue to do our job."

West says civil asset forfeiture is tool to combat crime while, at the same time, using seized assets and unclaimed funds to fund crime prevention, purchase vehicles or equipment.

But West says he's not sold on having those funds -- which can fluctuate wildly from year to year -- being sent south towards the U.S. border for a wall.

"I think it`s a little premature, anyway. But I can tell you, as the Sheriff of Canadian County, I would rather be able to keep those funds in the county, we can put a use to it here."

Civil asset forfeiture has been a hot-button topic, nationwide, as well as right here in Oklahoma. Just last year, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a law allowing Oklahomans to recover attorney fees in forfeiture cases whose assets were unjustly seized.

Some question civil asset forfeitures, altogether.

"It makes Americans prove they are innocent, in order to get property back, even if they`ve never been charged with a crime," said Dan Alban, an attorney with The Institute for Justice.

Alban points to a Muskogee County case last year when $53,000 -- meant for a church and orphans -- was seized from a Christian rock band's manager, Burmese refugee Eh Wah, who was accused of trafficking drug money. Alban represented Wah in the case; charges were eventually dropped and the money returned.

Alban says forfeitures breed policing for profit.

"We don`t take any position on the border wall, or how the money being spent on it," Alban said. "But what I can say is if the money is being directed to something that is not under law-enforcement control, that would substantially improve the incentives for civil forfeiture in Oklahoma. Law enforcement would no longer have these strong incentives to police for profit."