Company says busted cargo was hemp not marijuana, suspects plead not guilty

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PAWHUSKA, Okla. - Four suspects arrested and booked for aggravated drug trafficking have pleaded not guilty after police say they seized thousands of pounds of what they believe to be marijuana.

Tadesse Deneke of Mobile, Alabama, Andrew Ross of Aurora, Colorado, David Dirksen of Comstock Park, Michigan, and Farah Warsame of Cleveland, Ohio were arrested on Jan. 9 in Pawhuska.

Police chief Rex Wikel said the truck driven by Deneke and Warsame passed a red light when officers also noticed a white van following closely. In it, were Ross and Dirksen.

Dilawar Saah with E.L. Logistics, which owns the truck, said it was carrying 18,000 pounds of industrial hemp. It was heading from Kentucky to Colorado.

"That’s what the broker said and that’s what they sent us the documents when police pulled over and said it was marijuana, we called over the broker and said why would you lie to us and other things? They forwarded us the documents, test results, and the grower license," Saah said.

In December, President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill Act which removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act given its low levels of THC. According to court documents filed in Osage County, police were able to "smell the odor of marijuana coming from the trailer".

It also stated officers located "60 boxes on pallets containing  a green and leafy substance with the odor and appearance of marijuana inside each box".

Matt Lyons, an attorney for Ross and Dirksen, said they were not placing blame on the Pawhuska Police Department for the arrests. However, he did note his clients were simply hired help.

"The concern of the DA’s office is that somewhere along the route they did something to forklift this product off the truck and put illegal product on the truck," Lyons said. "Fortunately for us, we have GPS tracking that proved that didn’t happen. We also have cameras to prove that didn’t happen."

The DEA office in Tulsa confirmed they have taken representative samples of the substance to determine exactly what it is. However, we were told it's unclear when the results would be back due to the government shutdown.

News 4 spoke with Chief Wikel over the phone. He told us a field test was conducted at the time of the arrests.

"The substance did field test presumptive positive for marijuana," court documents state.

The Osage County District Attorney's Office sent News 4 this statement Wednesday:

"The district attorney’s office has filed charges against all four individuals associated with the transport of a controlled dangerous substance through the State of Oklahoma and the City of Pawhuska.  In doing so, the determination was made, based upon the evidence obtained during the investigation and testing of the contents of the truck, that the suspects are in violation of state law.  Specifically, the evidence indicates that the suspects have committed the crime of aggravated trafficking of marijuana.  While we are fully aware of the new federal regulations pertaining to the interstate transportation of hemp, it is our belief that what was being transported was more than hemp as alleged by both the defendant’s attorneys as well as others associated with the companies purportedly associated with the truck involved.  The State will proceed with what we believe are appropriate  charges and expect that the full story will come to light as the case moves forward through the courts."

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