Although cannabis (aka marijuana) is illegal under federal law, the U.S. Attorney's Office opted to prosecute a prominent cannabis entrepreneur in San Luis Obispo for bribery and tax evasion. Cannabis cultivation is legal in California.
Facing a statutory maximum penalty of 13 years, the wealthy owner of several cannabis dispensaries and controlling interest in multiple cannabis farms agreed to plead guilty on July 28, 2021. He admitted to one count of bribery and one count of tax evasion, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California reported.
The Santa Maria Times reported the owner of the Natural Healing Center formally pleaded guilty in district court on Oct. 22, 2021.
The plea agreement required the 36-year-old man to pay restitution to the IRS. He also cooperated with FBI and IRS investigators and the assistant U.S. attorney from the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.
The man was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison on May 27, the USAO announced. Full restitution of $3,438,793 had already been paid.
One bribe over the line
In addition to tax evasion, the cannabis businessman admitted to paying $32,000 in cash, free cannabis, and in-kind gifts, including a lavish birthday party in Pismo Beach, to bribe a San Luis Obispo County supervisor. The supervisor voted multiple times in favor of zoning ordinances allowing the expansion of cannabis operations despite local opposition.
Writing in “Cannabis Business Times,” a former federal prosecutor reported that the would-be “cannabis king” of San Luis Obispo was caught up in a years-long federal investigation into local government corruption, not marijuana, on California's central coast.
The former prosecutor explained, “Bribery of a state or local official is a federal crime where the locality or the state has received in excess of $10,000 for any federal program.… San Luis Obispo's budget includes federal program funds, hence the interest.”
Cops and pleas
The now-deposed “cannabis king” was not the subject of the FBI corruption investigation. He got such a lenient sentence because he paid restitution and cooperated with the investigation.
Anyone charged with a federal crime needs aggressive criminal defense counsel experienced in federal law. Call the Sigal Law Group in Greater Los Angeles at 818-325-0570 for a free consultation.
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