Former MI House Speaker Pleads Guilty in Cannabis Bribery Scheme

April 11, 2023 · MG Magazine

Lansing, Michigan, USA at the Michigan State Capitol during the evening. (Governor Austin Blair statue dedicated in 1898)

Federal prosecutors charged former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson, a Republican, and three others in a public corruption scheme related to the state’s medical marijuana licensing process. All four defendants are cooperating with the investigation and have agreed to plead guilty to felony offenses, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Moving forward I want to be crystal clear,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “My office, working with FBI Michigan, will place the highest priority on our work to prosecute public corruption cases at the local, state, and federal level wherever we may find them.”

The investigation into Johnson’s activity began in December 2017, according to Totten.

Johnson served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1999 to 2004 and as speaker of the House from 2001 to 2004. After his time in public office, he served as the chair of the Michigan Marijuana Licensing Board (MMLB) from 2017 to 2019. According to court documents, during his time at the MMLB, Johnson provided “valuable non-public information about the anticipated rules and operation of the MMLB and assistance with license application matters to [applicant John] Dalaly, [lobbyist Brian] Pierce, [lobbyist Vincent] Brown, and others that paid money to Johnson while he was chairperson of the MMLB.” The cash payments were made to multiple business entities Jonson used to conceal his activity.

Between 2018 and 2019, Johnson voted to approve the prequalification status of one of Dalaly’s companies as well as a company represented by Pierce and Brown. Johnson also voted to grant medical marijuana licenses to both companies.

Johnson’s plea agreement states he accepted more than $100,000 in cash payments and benefits during his tenure as chair of the MMLB. Much of that money came from Dalaly, whose plea agreement states he gave at least $68,200 in cash payments and other benefits to Johnson, including travel on private charter flights to Canada. Pierce and Brown were lobbyists operating as Philip Alan Brown Consulting LLC and Michigan Grower’s Consultants LLC. In their agreements, they admit to causing at least $42,000 in cash and other benefits to be given to Johnson.

Johnson was charged with accepting a bribe, a felony offense punishable by up to ten years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Dalaly was charged with payment of a bribe, a felony offense punishable by up to ten years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Pierce and Brown both were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, a felony offense punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer abolished the MMLB in 2019 with an executive order that established the Marijuana Regulatory Agency within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). At the time, Whitmer said the new agency would “eliminate inefficiencies that have made it difficult to meet the needs of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients.” According to Totten, the abolishment of the MMLB was not relevant to the bribery case.

Totten said plea hearings are expected in the next one to two weeks. The FBI’s investigation into the matter is ongoing. (Full Story)

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