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State still seeking to keep $1M in cash found during marijuana investigation in 2021

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When state narcotics agents raided Green World Garden Supply in Oklahoma City in 2021, they were looking for evidence it was behind black-market marijuana sales.

The company was believed to be "a front for some form of organized crime," one agent told a judge in a request for a search. The evidence sought included "United States currencies which may be proceeds from the unlawful cultivation."

Agents did find cash − more than $1 million. They also found $21,000 in money orders. They seized it all.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control has been fighting to keep it ever since. The supply company owner, Dao Feng, has been fighting to get it back.

"They are convinced ... that he's some big kingpin in this Chinese illegal drug operation. A kingpin doesn't live in his ex-girlfriend's spare room and not have a job," Feng's attorney, Tom Cummings, said last week. "I understand he's got a business they don't like. He supplies marijuana grows. You could do that. I could do that. ... But he's Asian. And they have targeted Asians."

"It's just ridiculous."

The forfeiture fight has been playing out for years in Oklahoma County District Court. The next court date − for the scheduling of a jury trial − is not until August.

Also at stake in the civil case is $1,608,937 seized from Feng's account at Valliance Bank and $544,611 seized from an account at Chase Bank.

Joining Feng in making a claim on the money is Ping Huang, an operator of a number of grows.

"Claimants have no answer for how they legally possess millions of dollars," a narcotics bureau attorney wrote in court filings.

Large stacks of cash not unusual at suspected illegal marijuana businesses

Since Oklahoma passed medical marijuana in 2018, state and federal agents regularly find stacks of cash at pot businesses suspected of operating illegally. The FBI, for instance, last May found $100,010 in vacuum-sealed cash hidden in the attic of the house at a grow near Wetumka.

The state's narcotics bureau has seized approximately $2.2 million in cash since 2021 during investigations of illegal marijuana businesses, public information officer, Mark Woodward, said last week.

The total includes the $1,014,439 seized at Green World Garden Supply in May 2021.

What was unusual about that find was not only the amount but that the cash wasn't secured.

"The currency was located within cardboard boxes, USPS Mailing Boxes, desk drawers, and plastic shopping bags," a state narcotics agent reported last month. "None of the U.S. Currency was behind locked doors or within a safe."

Deng, now 48, came under investigation after an April 2021 inspection of a Pauls Valley medical marijuana grow that had been licensed only a month. He was listed as an owner. Agents decided the grow must have been operating illegally before getting its license because the plants were too tall.

State narcotics agents and Garvin County sheriff deputies raided the grow on April 30, 2021, and seized 2,594 pot plants. Those plants were moved to another location and destroyed.

Deng was charged in Garvin County District Court with unlawful cultivation of marijuana, a felony.

Agents seized his bank accounts after finding out he had deposited more than $18 million at Valliance Bank between Nov. 10, 2020, and April 30, 2021, according to court records. A manager at Valliance Bank told agents the deposits "are received as cash, up to $900,000 at a time, carried into the bank by Feng or an employee ... inside a cardboard box."

A twist in the dispute over the seized funds came when a Garvin County special judge in 2022 threw out Feng's criminal case because of insufficient evidence.

His attorneys immediately sought to have forfeiture proceedings dismissed and the money returned. They argued Feng had been falsely accused and the basis for forfeiture no longer existed. The Oklahoma County judge overseeing the civil case denied the dismissal motion.

A new twist came last month when state agents revealed in search warrant requests that Feng is being investigated again.

They allege he and Huang have been involved in another Pauls Valley marijuana grow that was operating illegally. Neither has been charged.

"They're just trying to break him," his attorney, Cummings, said.

Deng had all the money in 2021 because he had been paid for large orders of equipment and materials, the attorney said. Huang was the operator of the Pauls Valley grow shut down in 2021, the attorney said.

"Asians use lots of cash," Cummings also said.

Agents in January searched Huang's residence in Edmond and reported seizing "multiple drug ledgers" and $174,449 in cash. Agents in January also searched two residences associated with Deng. They reported seizing $22,676 in cash and a rifle from a home in Moore.

How many marijuana grows have been shut down by narcotics agents?

The narcotics bureau has shut down over 3,000 grows, arrested over 300 individuals and seized over 1 million pounds of marijuana since 2021 as part of criminal investigations, according to its latest Facebook post.

Agents on Thursday seized approximately 3,800 plants and 600 pounds of processed marijuana during a search of a farm in Earlsboro, according to the post.

Many of those investigations determined grows had used "straw owners" to get around the state's strict residency requirements to open up.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond has repeatedly blamed Chinese nationals for problems in the state's medical marijuana industry.

“Illegal marijuana grows are responsible for an alarming influx of organized crime into our communities, particularly from Mexican drug cartels and Chinese crime syndicates” Drummond said in September. “I have made it a priority to wipe out these illicit operators."