Pasco man accused of selling opium pods dies

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 8, 2014 

Poppies2.JPG

Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim, right, cuts poppy pods Wednesday at 5100 Elm Road in July, 2013 after federal and local agents served a search warrant at the 40-acre farm. One of the property owners, Kenneth James French, who was accused of distributing the opium poppies, died of a heart attack Jan. 2.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

A Pasco man accused of distributing opium poppies that could be used to make illegal drugs has died.

Attorney Jim Egan has asked that the federal court dismiss the indictment in two court cases against Kenneth James French, 58, who died of a heart attack Jan. 2.

The cases include six other co-defendants, including some family members. Most had been the target of an investigation for almost a year before they were indicted last summer.

Egan had just filed motions Dec. 31 to dismiss French's grand jury indictment in both cases. He wanted U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley to review whether federal prosecutors gave the grand jury incorrect information on the law about using an attorney's advice as a defense.

French, with his wife Shanna R. French, owned a 40-acre farm at 5100 Elm Road, where they grew poppies and sold seeds through their business, Poppydog Farms, and online through Dried Poppies Direct.

The farm was featured in the Herald in 2012 and the couple said they sold the seed pods for craft and decorative uses to 2,400 customers nationwide. Egan later told the Herald that his client had no idea it was an illegal activity.

If Kenneth French had known, he would not have advertised on the Internet, incorporated the business, obtained a business license and discussed the business for a feature story, Egan said.

Undercover detectives allegedly bought Papaver Somniferum, or opium poppies, from Kenneth French at least four times during the investigation, including online and in a detached garage on the Pasco farm. That variety of poppy is illegal in Washington. It can be used to make heroin, morphine or a tea.

On one occasion, Kenneth French told undercover detectives the opium poppies could be used to make tea and described the effect he gets from the tea as "feeling good" or "pain control," according to court documents.

The couple owned the business, but Shanna French reportedly said she had nothing to do with the operation. Kenneth French told the Herald he was harvesting and selling the seed pods with his son, Kyle B. French, and they stored the crop in a 4,000-square-foot building at the Pasco farm.

Kenneth, Shanna and Kyle French are defendants in one case along with Kenneth Shane French, who goes by Shane and is a year younger than Kyle French. It is unclear how he is related to the family.

In a separate case, Kenneth French and three Kennewick men -- Kyle Hagan, Amir H. Algaar and Luis l. Ciran -- are named as defendants. The second case may be related to a 2,900-square-foot building in the Port of Kennewick's Oak Street Industrial Park, which Kenneth James French had told the Herald was needed for the larger 2012 harvest.

The charges from both cases against Kenneth French included 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.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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