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Crime and Courts

U.S. agrees to return $1.1 million to company busted for hauling legal weed money in Kansas

 The U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas is seeking the forfeiture of $165,620 found in a van that was transporting money from marijuana dispensaries in Kansas City to a credit union in Colorado.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas is seeking the forfeiture of $165,620 found in a van that was transporting money from marijuana dispensaries in Kansas City to a credit union in Colorado.

Last year, a sheriff’s deputy in Dickinson County, Kansas, stopped one of Empyreal Logistics' vehicles on Interstate 70 and seized nearly $166,000 in cash it was transporting from legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Kansas City, Missouri, to a credit union in Colorado.

In a possible harbinger of how a similar case in Kansas might end, the government has agreed to return $1.1 million it seized from an armored car company that was transporting cash from state-licensed cannabis businesses in California.

In return, the armored car company, Denver-based Empyreal Logistics, has agreed to drop the federal lawsuit it filed in California against the government. The suit alleged the seizures in California and Kansas were illegal.

In a news release Wednesday, Empyreal said the settlement does not affect the separate civil forfeiture action filed in Kansas. But the California and Kansas cases involve nearly identical fact patterns, which suggests the government might agree to a similar resolution here.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to comment on the case, saying it does not speak about pending litigation.

Last year, a sheriff’s deputy in Dickinson County, Kansas, stopped one of Empyreal’s vehicles on Interstate 70 for a traffic violation and seized nearly $166,000 in cash it was transporting from legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Kansas City, Missouri, to a credit union in Colorado.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas subsequently filed a civil forfeiture action against Empyreal, arguing the seized cash was traceable to sales that violated the federal Controlled Substances Act. (Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug under the act.)

The lawsuit Empyreal has agreed to dismiss accused law enforcement officials in California and Kansas of acting in concert with the Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct “pretextual stops” of Empyreal’s vehicles and then turning the seized cash over to federal law enforcement for forfeiture proceedings under the federal equitable sharing program.

Under the program, the federal government shares assets seized in civil forfeitures with state and local law enforcement agencies.

“Empyreal was operating legally under California law, but with current federal civil forfeiture laws, even compliant businesses can be targeted,” Dan Alban, a lawyer for Empyreal, said in a statement.

Empyreal’s lawsuit alleged that the Dickinson County sheriff’s deputy pulled over Empyreal’s Ford Transit van as it was heading east on I-70 because its Colorado license plate tag was slightly covered by the license plate holder.

Empyreal and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas agreed last month to stay the Kansas forfeiture case for 60 days while the parties explore mediation and “continue to work toward a resolution during the stay,” according to court documents.

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