While on their way to buy a plot of farmland, Nang Thai and Weichuan Liu say Oklahoma police "illegally" confiscated the over $130,000 in cash they were carrying after pulling them over on Interstate 40.
What happened: The two New Mexico businessmen were driving along Interstate 40 at 2 a.m. on April 19 when Oklahoma police pulled them over, searched them and their vehicle and confiscated their money, according to NBC News.
Nang Thai, a 51-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, and his business partner Weichuan Liu were on their way to buy a 10-acre plot of farmland when they were pulled over on Interstate 40.
“We didn’t understand why he pulled us over,” Thai said. “I was driving under the speed limit.”
A Canadian County Sheriff’s deputy peered into their vehicle, asked for the men’s licenses and questioned them about where they were going and if they were carrying any money.
The men had over $130,000 in cash with them, which Thai said they were saving up for years and were planning to use to buy the farmland.
The deputy said he suspected the two men were involved in illegal activity, and once a second deputy arrived, Thai and Liu were driven to the police station where they were interrogated for hours.
Deputies emptied a backpack and suitcase full of cash and searched the car but did not find guns, drugs or any other illicit items.
“They kept saying, ‘This is illegal money,’” Thai said. “I said, ‘Okay, prove it. We didn't do anything illegal.’”
The two men were released without being charged or even issued a traffic ticket, but the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office did not return their cash.
Theft: According to NBC News, what happened to Thai and Liu is a controversial law enforcement practice known as civil asset forfeiture, “in which police can confiscate a person’s cash or other property even without bringing criminal charges.”
District Attorney Michael Fields filed court papers that claim the money was seized because it was intended to be used to violate drug laws or resulted from illegal drug transactions.
“Now I have to prove I’m innocent, and they are the ones who illegally took my money and basically stole some of my money, too,” said Thai.
Thai and Liu are now fighting to get the money back. They contend that the amount the sheriff’s office says it confiscated – $131,500 – is actually $10,000 short of the total they had in their car that day.
NBC News spoke to the seller of the land that Thai and Liu wanted to buy. He said he had met with them a few days earlier and had drawn up a contract to sell the property to Thai for $100,000.
“I was shocked when I heard of the confiscation of their money,” the seller told NBC News.
In 2017, Liu was convicted of growing marijuana in California.
According to an NBC News review of court records, local law enforcement agencies confiscated more than $1.3 million from people driving through Canadian County. At least 58% of the 31 cash seizures involved minorities only – with Asian people making up 23%, Black 19% and Hispanic 16%. White people accounted for 26% of the forfeitures in Canadian County, which is more than 75% white. Only 14 out of the 31 cash forfeitures resulted in criminal charges, or 45%, court records show.
Featured Image via KFOR Oklahoma's News 4
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