Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

$53,000 meant for charities returned to man after seizure; DA drops charges

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MUSKOGEE, Okla. - It was money meant for a church and orphans - all seized in a traffic stop.

The man charged appeared in court Monday morning accused of trafficking drug money.

The story took several twists and turns Monday.

Now, the district attorney is dismissing the case altogether.

The man manages a Christian band touring and raising money for charity, so he had a lot of cash on him when he was stopped on Highway 69.

Deputies searched his car, they didn’t find any drugs but they did find that cash and accused the man of carrying drug money.

Eh Wah is a refugee from Burma.

He's been a U.S. citizen for 10 years but hasn't forgotten his home country.

His band has raised tens of thousands of dollars for a religious college in Burma, a church and an orphanage in Thailand.

That money was in jeopardy though when a Muskogee County deputy stopped him for a broken taillight.

"They let him off with a warning for the taillight. They were evidently looking for something more, because they searched his car and they ended up seizing $53,000 in cash," said Robert Johnson, Wah's attorney.

Deputies didn't arrest Wah that night, but they kept all the cash and presented charges to the DA, accusing Wah of trafficking drug money.

Wah immediately turned himself in.

"He’s never had any other encounter with law other than this 2001 traffic ticket before this time, and suddenly he’s been pulled over, he’s been taken in by the police, spends six hours in custody, then finds out he’s been indicted. This is just shocking to him," Johnson said.

In Oklahoma, law enforcement can keep up to 100 percent of seizure money to help fund their departments.

Some lawmakers have pushed for reform because of cases like this.

"They basically said, because the state legislature hasn’t funded their office, they need to do this to supplement. Well, I don’t think any government agency should be able to supplement their budget by taking innocent people’s stuff. That’s just not the system we have," said Sen. Kyle Loveless.

As for Wah, DA Orvil Loge told NewsChannel 4 late Monday afternoon he's dropping the charges and cutting Wah a check for just over $53,000 to go to the charities that money was meant for.

Deputies seized that money under Oklahoma's civil asset forfeiture law.

One reform bill did pass the legislature this year that would refund attorney's fees for people found innocent of a crime.

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