A former Republican Michigan House speaker who has since become a cannabis regulator is facing penalties for accepting bribes for cannabis licenses. Allegedly, Rick Johnson received over $110,000 in bribes in his current position. Read on for the details.
Details of the Case Involving Rick Johnson Accepting Bribes for Cannabis Licenses
Johnson was named as a defendant in the case along with Vincent Brown and Brian Pierce, lobbyists charged with conspiracy in accepting bribes for cannabis licenses, and John Dalaly, a business owner charged with paying bribes.
All four defendants received plea bargains for pleading guilty.
“The marijuana industry has been held out as an equalizing opportunity. Yet what we’ve learned today is that one of its key leaders acted corruptly and did so at a moment that mattered most for those who want to get ahead in this industry,” Mark Totten, U.S. Attorney for the West District of Michigan at a press conference last week.
Events Leading Up to the Politician Accepting Bribes for Cannabis Licenses Case
From 1999 to 2004, Johnson served as a state representative. He spent three of the years as a House Speaker as well.
He left office to run a lobbying firm in Lansing. He went on to serve as the chair of the Michigan marijuana licensing board from 2017 to 2019.
An FBI investigation began in 2017 once agents suspected Johnson was accepting bribes for cannabis licenses. Totten describes him as being “at the heart of this corrupt scheme”.
Reportedly, Johnson had been receiving cash [payments and other perks like private chartered flights through Dalaly’s business.
“Rooting out corruption is especially difficult,” FBI special agent Jim Tarasca told the media. He thanked computer forensic examiners and forensic accountants for piecing together the paper trail of payments and digital evidence.
The FBI has been issuing warnings about the threat of corruption posed by the cannabis industry. Other incidents of accepting bribes for cannabis licenses have happened in several states. Officials in Arkansas and Missouri have faced similar allegations.
More Details of the Johnson Accepting Bribes for Cannabis Case
Dalaly’s company had been seeking a medical license from the board. Brown and Pierce lobbied in favor of another company getting a license. Johnson allegedly voted in favor of those companies and provided “valuable non-public information about the anticipated rules” regarding the medical program.
Brown and Pierce tried to hide the payments Johnson was receiving by funneling them through companies Johnson controlled. These payments came out of their client’s retainer fees.
Brown’s attorney, David Griem, said his client cooperated with the FBI “like a good citizen” before he even hired a lawyer. He also claimed he didn’t “know any of the big fish in this case.”
The other defendant’s attorneys did not respond to requests for comments on the case.
The Future of the Politicians Accepting Bribes for Cannabis Licenses Case
The four defendants are expected to be arraigned and attend plea hearings within the next two weeks.
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone who has information concerning the case is encouraged to contact the FBI.
The defendants have pledged to cooperate with the FBI on the ongoing investigation.
Johnson and Dalaly are facing charges of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Johnson’s plea deal involves him forfeiting the $110,000 in bribes. The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to a reducing his offense level in return.
Brown and Pierce are facing up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
What the Case for Accepting Bribes for Cannabis Licenses Means to Michigan
The case of accepting bribes for cannabis licenses is set to become the largest federal corruption case in Michigan for some time. It has highlighted Lansing’s economy and the state’s ethics regarding its growing marijuana industry.
The investigation went public in February as FBI agents were scrutinizing Johnson’s two-year position as chairman of the state board in determining which businesses would be awarded licenses for selling and growing marijuana.
They had also searched Pierce’s home in 2020 as part of a broader series of raids targeting people thought to be involved in accepting bribes for cannabis licenses.
Dalaly is portrayed to be an experienced marketer and developer of international healthcare products. He ran two marijuana-related businesses, one that sought state licenses to operate provisioning centers, and another that was looking to create a digital currency platform for marijuana sales.
Other Shady Deals Johnson Was Involved In
Allegedly, the deal Johnson had with Dalaly wasn’t the only shady business he was involved with that involved accepting bribes for cannabis licenses. The politician had also voted in support of a marijuana business during his time in office and then accepted a $75,000 loan from an investor with a stake in the deal.
The loan violated the legal prevention of corruption in the state and raised concerns about secret financial arrangements in the Michigan marijuana industry.
Specifically, it went against a 2016 law that prohibits board members from entering into a contract with an applicant or a person that manages an applicant for four years after their service on the board.
Mort Meisner, a speaker for the lending company MSY, had this to say. “MSY regrets providing the loan as they did not know the issues surrounding Mr. Johnson, and unequivocally the loan was not made for any actions during Mr. Johnson’s time on the board.” He also referenced “Johnson’s consistent record of bad behavior”.