Feds charger former Michigan House speaker in marijuana investigation

LANSING — Federal prosecutors announced corruption charges Thursday against former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson and three others in connection to bribes paid for marijuana licenses.

The announcement, made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids, comes on the heels of a multi-year investigation into Johnson’s time chairing the former Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board.

Johnson, who became a lobbyist after leaving the Legislature in 2005, led the board from 2017-2019.

The feds accuse Johnson of a pay-to-play scheme of accepting bribes to fast-track medical marijuana licenses. At that time, the industry was in a battle to get licenses and make it to market before competitors.

The feds accuse Johnson of accepting bribes from the three co-defendants — John Dawood Dalaly, Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown.

All four of the defendants have accepted a plea deal with the feds and are cooperating with the ongoing investigation, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten said in a press conference in Lansing Thursday. The investigation started in 2017.

Dalaly, head of lobbying firm Michigan Green Technologies, is accused of paying Johnson at least $68,000 in cash payments and benefits, including two charter private jet flights to Canada, to fast-track the approval of the medical marijuana license for a company he represented, Totten said.

Totten declined to name the company as it’s not involved in the charges.

Pierce, who is president of Open Road Innovations, a Birmingham-based marijuana consulting business, and Birmingham-based Philip Alan Brown Consulting, and Brown, a marijuana industry lobbyist with his own firm, Artemis Consulting, are accused of providing at least $42,000 in bribe money to approve the medical marijuana license for another unnamed company.

Brown lobbies for Royal Oak-based Jars Holdings Inc. and, until recently, he lobbied for Lansing-based Green Peak Industries, which is currently under a court-ordered receivership. Past clients have included Emerald Growth Partners in Detroit, Leoni Wellness in Bingham Farms and Redbud Roots Inc. in Buchanan.

More charges are expected in the future as the case is ongoing, James Tarasca, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan, said in the press conference.

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