7 indicted for alleged roles in opium poppies distribution case

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJuly 22, 2013 

Seven Tri-City residents have been federally indicted for their alleged roles in the distribution of opium poppies, which can be used to make heroin and morphine or a potent tea.

Six of the defendants, including a Franklin County couple who've been the target of an investigation for nearly a year, appeared Monday in U.S. District Court in Yakima.

While they all were entering innocent pleas before Magistrate Judge James P. Hutton, the couple's son was in Benton County Superior Court after his arrest over the weekend for failing to keep up with fines on an older criminal case. He'll appear on another day in federal court.

All seven face one count of conspiracy to distribute or conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, in addition to other felony charges.

The indictments were filed Thursday after the matters went before a federal grand jury for the Eastern District of Washington. There are two cases.

Kenneth James French -- whose Franklin County poppy farm was searched two weeks ago -- is named in both cases.

His wife, Shanna R. French, and their son, Kyle B. French, also are charged.

Kenneth Shane French, who goes by Shane, is the fourth co-defendant in one case. It is unclear how he is related to the family.

The second case involves Kyle A. Hagen, Amir H. Algaar and Luis G. Ciriano, along with Ken J. French.

At Monday’s hearing, they were informed of the charges against them and appointed attorneys in the federal system. Shane French has retained lawyer John Crowley of Seattle. Hagen has hired Kennewick attorney Scott Johnson.

Senior Judge Robert H. Whaley has been assigned to preside over the matters. Trial dates will be set at future hearings.

They remain out of custody in the cases, though Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Garriques reportedly tried to have bail set at $10,000 for each, saying there is a serious risk the defendants will flee because the drug offenses carry prison sentences of more than 10 years.

Hutton denied the request. Bail hearings are set later this week.

Shanna and Ken French have a 40-acre farm at 5100 Elm Road and sold poppy seeds through their business, Poppydog Farms, and online through Dried Poppies Direct.

Last summer, when the farm was featured in the Herald, the couple said they sold the seedpods for craft and decorative purposes. They said they had 2,400 customers nationwide.

Kennewick attorney Jim Egan -- who has been assigned to represent Ken French -- told the Herald earlier this year that French had no idea it was an illegal activity.

"If he thought it was illegal, he probably would not have advertised on the Internet. ... He incorporated the business, got a business license and did all the things he was supposed to do in order to set up the business," Egan said then. "He also talked to the Tri-City Herald ... and said what a wonderful business it was. That's something that people who are trying to hide their criminal activities don't usually do."

Undercover detectives allegedly bought Papaver Somniferum, or opium poppies, from French at least four times during their investigation, including online and in a detached garage on the Pasco farm. That specific variety of poppy is illegal in Washington state.

On one occasion, French told them the opium poppies could be used to make tea, and described the effect he gets from the tea as "feeling good" or for the purpose of "pain control," court documents said.

The opium poppies and poppy straw received in each purchase were sent to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for testing, documents said.

The couple both own the business, but Shanna French reportedly said she had nothing to do with the operation.

Ken French told the Herald he was harvesting and selling the seedpods with his son, Kyle, and they stored the crop in a 4,000-square-foot building at the Pasco farm.

In the same story, French said to accommodate the larger 2012 harvest he was renting a 2,900-square-foot building in the Port of Kennewick's Oak Street Industrial Park. The port accepted the lease on July 10, 2012, and set the start date in August.

French said he was going to hire permanent employees to help manage the warehouse and temporary employees to bring in the harvest.

Since the case involving Hagen, Algaar and Ciriano originated in Benton County, it is believed they were affiliated with French through the Oak Street facility.

However, court documents on their case don't give specifics other than saying they committed the crimes between July and October 2012. Their operation allegedly was known as "Poppy Kings."

Tim Arntzen, Port of Kennewick's executive director, said they required proper documentation before leasing the warehouse. That included a city of Kennewick business license and the necessary licensing from the state.

"It's one of those things that everybody thought was legitimate," Arntzen told the Herald on Monday. "Our belief was that everything happening on port property was legitimate."

The port's involvement with the tenants was on a limited basis, and the lease ended as soon as police came into the picture questioning the operation, he said.

The case with all four Frenches in Franklin County gives various dates between January 2012 and July 10, 2013. That's when a search warrant was served on the Elm Road property by the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The charges are:

-- Ken French, 58, for both cases -- one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, one count conspiracy to distribute, five counts of distribution and two counts of possession with intent to distribute.

-- Shanna French, 57 -- one count each of conspiracy to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance; and two counts of possession with intent to distribute.

-- Kyle French, 38 -- one count each of conspiracy to distribute and distribution.

-- Shane French, who turns 37 today -- one count of conspiracy to distribute.

Online records show they all live in Pasco.

Hagen and Algaar, both 39, and Ciriano, who's either 42, each face -- one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and two counts of possession with intent to distribute.

All three are from Kennewick.

Kyle French was picked up on a bench warrant Saturday afternoon in connection with his 2011 guilty pleas to two counts of fourth-degree assault and one count of third-degree malicious mischief.

He had not been paying on his legal financial obligations, so Monday afternoon before Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge he was given a suspended 30-day sentence and released on the condition he pay $875 toward that case by Sept. 12 or face jail time, court records show. He no longer was in the Benton County jail Monday afternoon.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service