In addition to arresting suspects and confiscating drugs in the multi-agency raid in three counties this week, authorities seized up to $500,000 in cash.

If the suspects are convicted and the money is proven to be from illegal activities, who gets to keep it?

Officials with the McDowell Sheriff’s Office and Marion Police Department said agencies that participate in raids such as this can potentially receive proceeds of seized monetary assets, but only after following a civil process.

The N.C. Department of Revenue, which was on scene for Tuesday’s raid, can assess civil penalties – i.e. controlled substance taxes – against the suspects. The $500,000 that was seized Tuesday is currently in control of the federal government, with that amount likely to change as the investigation continues.

According to Sheriff Dudley Greene, with the agency’s participation in a DEA task force and through cases generated by investigators, the Sheriff’s Office often seizes assets in drug-related cases and receives proceeds from them.

“Tuesday’s case is an exception to the norm, due to the amount of assets and money seized, and the amount of assets and money that will continue to be seized as this investigation proceeds. It’s a very long process,” said Greene.

The raid, which began around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning across McDowell, Burke and Catawba counties, started with a probe of activity in July 2016 at the Nebo residence of 36-year-old Jamie Leonard Tate. Tate, and wanted suspect Dwayne Bullock, 35, of Newton, were determined to have conspired with numerous people to traffic and distribute hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine and marijuana, as well as lesser amounts of cocaine and heroin, in a conspiracy that spans from McDowell to California, investigators allege.

With Tuesday’s bust, authorities were able to net seven suspects and seize approximately 20 pounds of meth, more than half a pound of marijuana, up to four ounces of fentanyl and other small amounts of pills, firearms, cellphones and vehicles, in addition to the $500,000 in cash.

According to Greene, a federal court will determine if the assets are subject to forfeiture and what, if any, percentage each agency receives. The N.C. Department of Revenue seized additional assets on Tuesday to offset some of the controlled substance tax levied by the state.

Greene also confirmed there is a possibility that, once that property is auctioned off, some of the proceeds will come back to the Sheriff’s Office.

“We anticipate that, at some point, a portion of the money will be returned to us, but there are a number of factors that go into that. The federal government has earmarked what drug asset forfeiture funds can be used for, like equipment, training and operating expenses, and we follow those guidelines,” said Greene.

When asked about the Marion Police Department’s participation in the raid, Chief Allen Lawrence confirmed that they, as part of a drug task force with the Sheriff’s Office, will receive a portion of the seizure at a later time.

How much of the $500K to be split between participating agencies is to be determined once final numbers come in from seized assets as well as proceeds of sold items, in what the Sheriff’s Office calls, “a very long, drawn-out process with further arrests to be made and more property to be seized such as houses, cars, money, jewelry, etc.”

In 2016, both the McDowell Sheriff’s Office and Marion P.D. received a combined $18,243 – $15,302 for the former and $2,941 for the latter – in equitable sharing payments for the fiscal year, with money and proceeds of sold items from criminal cases, according to reports by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Agencies that assisted in Tuesday’s nine-month joint, multi-jurisdictional investigative effort include the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office; the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation; Marion Police Department; the McDowell County District Attorney’s Office; the Burke County Sheriff’s Office; Morganton Department of Public Safety; Newton Police Department; the N.C. Highway Patrol; the U.S. Postal Service; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Attorney’s Office; and U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Also providing aid at the scenes Tuesday were members of McDowell County Emergency Management, McDowell County EMS, Nebo Fire Department, N.C. Department of Revenue and N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement.