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Lawsuit Between Armored Car Company Transporting Cannabis and San Bernardino County Resolved

On May 6, a joint statement was released stating that both Empyreal and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in Southern California “understand that each [was] acting in good faith when the stops were conducted and have come to an understanding that will enable both sides to move forward amicably.”

Empyreal transport vans were stopped by Sheriff Shannon Dicus’ deputies in November, December, and January, and had seized a total of $1.1 million in legal cannabis sales. The U.S. Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program allows the sheriff’s department to retain up to 80% of money collected through civil forfeitures. California’s laws prohibit law enforcement from seizing legal marijuana money. However, Dicus transferred the cash to the FBI, saying it was evidence during an ongoing investigation. Although the suit against Dicus was ongoing, the federal government agreed to 100% return the money that it had seized.

According to San Bernardino SunDicus felt that all seizures by his department were valid. November 16th, the Empyreal Ford van drove six feet behind a semi truck while towing a trailer. “During the stop, the deputy made further observations, including hearing inconsistent statements made by the driver and company representatives, that led the deputy to believe the contents of the van were illicit proceeds of unlawful drug sales,” Dicus said of the incident. Deputy J. Franco based these findings obtained a search warrant and seized $700,000.00 worth of cannabis products from four state licensed businesses.

Similar incident took place on December 9th with the Empyreal Ford van. It was moving lanes and not signaling. A document was provided that told the driver what to do if he or she were pulled over by law enforcement. “Specifically, the document instructed the driver to ‘never say the words cannabis or marijuana’ and ‘never say the names of the banks or clients we service.’” On that date, the van was transporting $350,000. An Empyreal van was pulled over a third time on Jan. 6, but was only carrying rolled coins that weren’t affiliated with the cannabis industry.

Empyreal launched a lawsuit on Jan. 14 with the U.S. District Court, demanding that Sheriff Shannon Dicus, as well as FBI Director Christopher Wray and Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram stop targeting Empyreal, claiming that the seizure of the company’s legitimate sales was “highway robbery.” At the time, Dicus’ believed that the lawsuit was “no more than a special-interest crusade and a blatant attempt to interfere with ongoing local criminal investigations.”

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department addressed this description on May 6, sharing that while the department will continue to work against “illegal marijuana grows and criminal enterprises,” Empyreal is not included in those efforts. “Both sides also acknowledge that Empyreal is part of the solution to help with financial transparency and that San Bernardino Deputies are not highway robbers as previously reported in the media,” the department wrote in a press release on May 6.

Injustice for Justice is a non-profit public interest law company that specialises in civil forfeiture cases. Empyreal has hired Injustice for Justice to handle the lawsuit. According to a press statement from Senior Attorney Dan Alban, it’s a welcome win for the firm and Empyreal. “We are pleased to have helped Empyreal achieve a successful result and return to business operations in San Bernardino County,” said Alban. “We will continue to challenge the use of civil forfeiture nationwide at the state and federal level.”

Empyreal CEO Deirdra O’Gorman also released a statement, stating that he was pleased that his company and the sheriff’s department were able to come to an agreement on the matter. “Empyreal, our financial institution clients and their state-licensed cannabis customers operate within the law, which is why we chose to bring a legal challenge to the seizures in San Bernardino County,” said O’Gorman. “Now that the funds have been returned and after meeting with the Sheriff, we are confident that we can continue serving state-legal businesses without future disruptions.”