Authorities served a federal search warrant Wednesday on a Franklin County poppy farm north of Pasco, using heavy machinery to cut down the plants and bundle them for destruction.
The raid at 5100 Elm Road by the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration appears to be the latest in a string of legal troubles for the farm’s owners, Ken and Shanna French.
They were not arrested Wednesday, but the Frenches have been accused by prosecutors in the past of growing and selling opium poppies.
Police declined to give any details about the investigation or any charges that could follow.
"(In) my 18 years in law enforcement I have never seen an operation like this where illegal poppies are being grown right under the public's nose,” said Trevor White, commander of the task force.
Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim described the cultivation of the poppies, just down the road from an elementary school, as “brazen.”
The Frenches operate a business called Poppydog Farms and Dried Poppies Direct. They told the Herald in 2012 that they sell the seed pods for decorative purposes to 2,400 customers nationwide.
They were arrested in October, after a 10-month undercover investigation, for allegedly selling poppy seed pods that contained controlled substances, court documents said. The seed pods contained “naturally occurring compounds found in opium poppies.” Opium poppies can be used to make heroin and morphine.
Ken French told detectives the poppies can be used to brew a tea that creates a “good feeling” that can be used to control pain, court documents said.
No charges were filed in that case. But federal prosecutors described the Frenches’ operation as an “ongoing drug enterprise” and filed a forfeiture complaint against the farm and its equipment in federal court.
Records show the Frenches bought the farm in 2011 for just under $600,000. They previously owned Jack-sons Sports Bar & Restaurant in Kennewick for five years.
Kennewick attorney Jim Egan, who represented the Frenches after they were arrested, told the Herald in January that Kenneth French had no idea what he was allegedly growing and selling was illegal.
“I told (federal prosecutors) that I think (filing charges) would be ill advised because there’s a plethora of evidence that Mr. Ken French has no idea this was an illegal activity,” Egan said.
Neither the Frenches nor Egan could be reached Wednesday about the federal search.
Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Ty_richardson