Former Michigan House speaker charged with accepting bribes from cannabis companies

Marijuana Board Bribery
Rick Johnson chairs the Michigan Medical Marijuana Board as it meets before a capacity crowd in Lansing, Michigan, on June 26, 2017. Federal authorities said Thursday, April 6, 2023, that Johnson accepted more than $100,000 in bribes and has agreed to plead guilty. Dale G. Young/AP

Former Michigan House speaker charged with accepting bribes from cannabis companies

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The former Michigan House Speaker is charged with accepting over $100,000 in bribes from cannabis companies seeking to obtain licenses.

Rick Johnson, who was also the former chairman of the Michigan Marijuana Licensing Board, was federally charged along with three others by Mark Totten, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan, on Thursday.

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Johnson, 70, is charged with one felony count of accepting a bribe, which is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the attorney’s office.

John Dalaly, 70, Brian Pierce, 45, and Vincent Brown, 32, were also charged. Dalaly received a charge of payment of a bribe, punishable by up to 10 years with a $250,000 fine. Pierce and Brown were each charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, punishable by up to five years and a $250,000 fine.

All four men pleaded guilty, with Johnson’s plea agreement admitting that he took more than $100,000 dollars in cash payments and benefits.

During his time as chairman from May 2017 to April 2019, Johnson provided “valuable non-public information about the anticipated rules and operation of the MMLB and assistance with license application matters to Dalaly, Pierce, Brown, and others that paid money to Johnson while he was Chairperson of the MMLB.”

Cash payments were made to three business groups, and Johnson used to accept payments from the companies, the attorney’s office said. Two of the companies, Philip Alan Brown Consulting and Michigan Grower’s Consultants, helped “hide those payments to Johnson while he was Chairperson of the MMLB.” Pierce and Brown were lobbyists for the two companies.

“Between July 2018 and April 2019, Johnson voted in favor of approving the prequalification status of one of Dalaly’s companies and a company that was represented by Pierce and Brown and voted in favor of granting medical marijuana licenses to those companies,” the attorney’s office said.

Totten said the marijuana industry was an “equalizing opportunity” dispelled by Johnson and the three other men’s crimes.

“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,” Totten said at a Thursday press conference.

Johnson served as a state House representative from 1999 to 2004, serving three years as House speaker. Following his departure from the legislature, he ran a lobbying firm in Michigan before serving as chairman of the cannabis licensing board.

Totten said during the press conference that Johnson was “at the heart of this corrupt scheme,” detailing the cash payments and private chartered flights through Dalaly’s companies.

All four men agreed to cooperate with the FBI and attorney’s office throughout the investigation of the explicit charges and any other federal crimes. The investigation began in 2017.

“It is always a sad day when someone who enjoys the trust of the people abuses that trust for his or her personal gain,” Michigan FBI Special Agent Jim Tarasca said.

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The FBI has spent years warning states about the threat of corruption that could stem from the cannabis industry, with similar crimes in several states, including California and Massachusetts, per Politico. State officials in Arkansas and Missouri have been hit with corruption allegations for years, as well.

Michigan approved the legalization of marijuana in 2018, allowing adults over 21 in Michigan to grow, consume, and possess marijuana. The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency began accepting applications for retail licenses in late 2019 and recently began operating licensed cannabis retailers for recreational use.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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