Kansas City, Missouri, woman sentenced for illegal firearm

Authorities find stolen items from KCK and KCMO police

A Kansas City, Missouri, woman who was arrested with 19 firearms and quantities of illegal drugs in her home was sentenced in federal court Friday for illegally possessing a firearm.

Robin A. Graham, 38, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Greg Kays in Missouri to nine years in federal prison without parole.

On June 22, 2021, Graham pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon and unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm.

Investigators were conducting surveillance on co-defendant Dylan Lee Larson, 29, of Overland Park, Kansas, who engaged in a series of controlled drug transactions with a confidential source in October 2020, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Western District of Missouri.

Officers followed Larson to Graham’s residence, which had at least two visible surveillance cameras mounted on the residence and pointed towards the front or street area, with what appeared to be a third surveillance camera mounted on the residence pointed directly at the front door, according to court documents. Officers executed a search warrant at the residence on Nov. 5, 2020. Graham and co-defendant Rusty W. Snow, 28, who shared the residence with Snow, were at home during the search and were arrested.

Officers noticed a Coach purse on the couch near where Graham had been sitting. Graham’s wallet was sitting on top of the purse and a Taurus 9mm semi-automatic handgun was visible in the open purse.

Officers found a loaded Glock .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol on the couch, along with a lunchbox that contained approximately 572 grams of crystal methamphetamine, according to court documents. Officers also found approximately 400.8 grams of marijuana in a shoebox on the floor, and multiple items of drug paraphernalia nearby.

Officers found a total of 19 firearms and numerous rounds of ammunition littered throughout the residence. Six of those firearms – a shotgun, a rifle, and four semi-automatic pistols – had been reported stolen.

Additionally, as they continued the search, officers found another approximately 527.44 grams of marijuana, another approximately 33.39 grams of crystal methamphetamine, approximately 33.39 grams of psychedelic mushrooms, approximately 48.9 grams of THC concentrate-THC wax, and 38 full and 11 half pills of various controlled pharmaceuticals, according to authorities.

Officers also found four stolen motorcycles on the property, two police tasers, police identification and other police items stolen from Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, officers.

Graham, who told investigators she was pregnant with Snow’s child, admitted she was aware of the drug distribution occurring in her residence. She also admitted she was aware of the numerous firearms in her residence.

Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a felony, or is a user of controlled substances, to be in possession of any firearm or ammunition. Graham has four prior felony convictions for burglary, as well as prior felony convictions for tampering, theft-stealing, possession of methamphetamine, attempted theft. Graham was on state parole at the time of her arrest in this case.

Snow pleaded guilty on Jan. 6, 2022, to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and one count of possessing firearms in furtherance of drug-trafficking crimes and awaits sentencing.

Larson pleaded guilty on April 30, 2021, to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and awaits sentencing.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Trey Alford. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

An armored car company, busted for hauling legal weed money across Kansas, is now suing the feds

Empyreal Logistics says federal and state law enforcement agencies are targeting its armored cars ‘because it is very profitable for those law enforcement agencies to seize the cash proceeds that Empyreal is transporting and keep that money using civil forfeiture.

by Dan Margolies, KCUR and Kansas News Service

An armored car company used by licensed marijuana dispensaries in Missouri and other states is suing the federal government, claiming law enforcement agents have illegally seized dispensary cash the company was transporting.

The federal lawsuit, filed in California last week by Empyreal Logistics, comes after a sheriff’s deputy in Dickinson County, Kansas, stopped one of Empyreal’s vehicles last year on Interstate 70 for an unspecified traffic violation and seized nearly $166,000 in cash it was transporting from 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.) That case is pending.

In October, KCUR sought records related to the stop from the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office under the Kansas Open Records Act. Doug Thompson, the Dickinson County counselor, responded by saying that the records were in the hands of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

KCUR then sought the records from the DEA in November under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The DEA has yet to respond to KCUR’s request.

Empyreal’s lawsuit, however, alleges that Dickinson County Sheriff’s Deputy Kalen Robinson pulled over Empyreal’s vehicle, a Ford Transit van, as it was heading east on I-70 because the Colorado license plate tag was slightly covered by the license plate holder. Robinson stopped the vehicle a second time the next day as it was heading west toward Colorado and seized the cash.

Empyreal’s lawsuit accuses Robinson as well as sheriff’s deputies in California of acting in concert with the DEA to conduct “pretextual stops” of Empyreal’s vehicles, “searching them, and seizing the cash contents — covering up their surveillance cameras and sometimes damaging Empyreal’s vehicles to access the cash in their secured vaults — and are then turning the seized cash over to federal law-enforcement for forfeiture proceedings under the federal equitable sharing program.”

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

Empyreal says that not a single traffic citation was issued to an Empyreal driver during any of the five traffic stops mentioned in its complaint.

It says federal and state law enforcement agencies are targeting its armored cars “because it is very profitable for those law enforcement agencies to seize the cash proceeds that Empyreal is transporting and keep that money using civil forfeiture.”

Dan Alban, an attorney with the Institute of Justice, which represents Empyreal, said Empyreal had initially viewed the Dickinson County stop as a one-off event. But since then, its vehicles have been stopped four more times in California, three of them in the last two months alone. The vehicles were transporting cash from state-licensed cannabis businesses in California.

“I think they began to become very concerned that this was an ongoing pattern of activity and that they were being targeted. And so they wanted not just to have to defend against these forfeiture actions after the fact” but to seek legal relief preventing future seizures, Alban said.

In addition to alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment and due process, the lawsuit seeks to block future stops, searches and seizures of Empyreal’s vehicles “based solely on the actual or suspected presence of cash earned by state-legal cannabis dispensaries without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”

‘Writing on the wall’

“Empyreal could see the writing on the wall,” Alban said. “They could tell they were being targeted — all of these stops and searches — five in total so far. And so in order to continue operating their armored car business, they needed not to be targeted by the feds or local sheriffs for these continued stops, searches and seizures.”

Empyreal is still seeking to recover the money that was seized in Kansas in the pending civil forfeiture proceeding. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to comment on the case.

The forfeiture action is being prosecuted by Colin D. Wood, a retired KBI senior special agent who now serves as a federal contractor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the title of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The traffic stop in Dickinson County took place last May. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed the civil forfeiture action three months later.

Attorneys not involved in the case have questioned why it was brought, given that it doesn’t involve the seizure of marijuana but rather proceeds from its sale and given that the dispensaries whose money was seized are licensed under Missouri’s medical cannabis program.

During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum stating that federal prosecutors would not enforce the federal prohibition against marijuana in states that had legalized it. And federal legislation enacted in 2014 prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

The legislation, known as the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment, must be renewed every year. It was renewed last year and remains effective through Feb. 18.

In its lawsuit, Empyreal says it has been forced to suspend its operations in San Bernardino, County, California, has stopped transporting cash through Kansas, has lost customers and has been unable to roll out new services in multiple states because of concerns about the stops and seizures.

“If these incidents continue to occur — and there is every indication they will — it will threaten Empyreal’s business model and its ability to continue providing financial infrastructure for the state-legal medical cannabis industry by safely moving cash from business premises into the legal banking system for greater transparency,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. Department of Justice; Attorney General Merrick Garland; the FBI; FBI Director Christopher Wray; an assistant FBI director overseeing the bureau’s Los Angeles field office; the DEA; DEA Administrator Anne Milgram; and San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon D. Dicus.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2022-01-19/an-armored-car-company-busted-for-hauling-legal-weed-money-across-kansas-is-now-suing-the-feds

Kansas Supreme Court reverses Johnson County judge’s ruling that pandemic law is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court cited a doctrine known as ‘constitutional avoidance,’ which counsels against ruling on the constitutionality of a law if there are other grounds to resolve a case.

by Dan Margolies, KCUR and Kansas News Service

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned a Johnson County judge’s decision that a 2021 Kansas law enacted to address COVID-19 emergency measures is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court, though, made clear it was not expressing an opinion on the constitutionality of the law, Senate Bill 40. Instead, it said Johnson County District Judge David Hauber had overstepped his bounds by ruling on the law’s constitutionality when he’d already ruled that SB 40 was inapplicable.

The Supreme Court cited a doctrine known as “constitutional avoidance,” which counsels against ruling on the constitutionality of a law if there are other grounds to resolve a case.

The Kansas Legislature enacted SB 40 in late 2021 to limit actions taken by the governor, school boards and local health officials. It created systems for speedy legal challenges to health orders and gave state lawmakers more oversight.

Among other things, the law authorized aggrieved parents or students to challenge board of education decisions within 30 days after they are issued. It also imposed timelines on the state’s trial courts to process lawsuits under the law.

In May 2021, two parents of children in the Shawnee Mission School District, Kristin Butler and Scott Bozarth, challenged the district’s mask policy for the just concluding school year. Both represented themselves and both claimed the policy violated federal law, “the ethics of the Nuremberg code” and a parent’s right to decide medical treatment for their child.

Hauber dismissed their suit a few weeks later. He found that the district had enacted its mask policy before SB 40 took effect and therefore it was inapplicable. He also found that Butler’s and Bozarth’s lawsuits were not timely.

But Hauber also took it upon himself to rule on SB 40’s constitutionality. And he found that the law violated the separation of powers doctrine by imposing timelines on court operations and also violated the due process rights of the Shawnee Mission School District.

In reversing Hauber, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Dan Biles, acknowledged that its “decision may be just a temporary retreat from a raging storm, but it reflects necessary adherence to a long-standing doctrine of judicial self-restraint known as constitutional self-avoidance.”

“This rule,” Biles wrote, “strongly counsels against courts deciding a case on a constitutional question if it can be resolved in some other fashion, especially when the question concerns the validity of a statute enacted by our coordinate branches of state government.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who was invited to intervene in the case and defend SB 40, argued that Hauber’s ruling had created “unnecessary and disruptive confusion” over the state’s emergency powers and urged the Supreme Court to uphold the law.

The case generated an enormous amount of interest, with numerous friends-of-the-court briefs filed by interested parties, including Gov. Laura Kelly, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Blue Valley School District, Kansas Association of School Boards Legal Assistance Fund, Kansas Justice Institute and a group of parents challenging mask mandates issued by the Olathe and Blue Valley school districts.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2022-01-07/kansas-supreme-court-reverses-johnson-county-judges-ruling-that-pandemic-law-is-unconstitutional
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