Ex-Michigan House Speaker admits accepting more than $110,000 in bribes to approve marijuana licenses

Former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to accepting more than $110,000 in bribes when he chaired a state board that granted the state’s first medical marijuana business licenses.

The bribes, which included trips on private jets, were made in exchange for approving the license applications of at least two businesses, Johnson admitted in federal court in Grand Rapids.

Johnson, who served as speaker of Michigan’s House of Representatives from 2001 through 2004, has been at the center of a federal corruption probe surrounding the board, given early authority over the budding marijuana industry.

Related: Ex-Michigan House speaker, 3 others to plead guilty in marijuana bribery probe

In a short statement after the hearing, U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said the investigation may not be over.

“As I mentioned before this investigation is ongoing, which is to say we may or may not bring future charges in this case,” Totten said. “But what I can say is that the investigation and the prosecution of public corruption is a priority for our office. We will follow it wherever we find it.”

Johnson and his attorney didn’t answer press questions after the hearing.

His charge, accepting a bribe, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Johnson has already agreed to forfeit at least $110,200 as part of the plea agreement.

Related: Read filings describing bribery scheme involving ex-Michigan House speaker

Oakland County businessman John Dalaly, who pleaded guilty, Friday, admitted to paying Johnson about $68,200 in the form of cash and gifts as he sought a license for a medical marijuana business in 2018. His plea agreement stated the bribes included two private chartered flights from Michigan to Canada on a Learjet 35 and King Air 200 aircraft, by way of two companies he operated.

Raymond Cassar, Dalaly’s attorney, said Dalaly been acting as a “facilitator” to a Canadian marijuana investment company called PharmaCo, but didn’t have an ownership stake or employment with the business.

The jet trips, Cassar said, had been with Johnson to visit the Canadian investors.

Related: Businessman pleads guilty in marijuana bribery case involving former Michigan House speaker

Dalaly said Johnson had “recommended that we use his wife, Jan Johnson, as a consultant,” and proceeded to pay her $4,000 a month.

Johnson’s wife will not be prosecuted as a condition of his guilty plea.

If accepted by the court, Johnson’s agreement could mean a reduction in his sentence. He was released on bond pending sentencing, which Magistrate Judge Phillip Green said would be in three to four months. He was ordered not to leave the state.

Plea hearings for the two lobbyists, Tyler Brown and Brian Pierce, charged thus far in the probe are scheduled for later this week. They also have signed agreements to plead guilty.

According to court filings, businesses set up by Johnson, JBJ Ranch LLC; VM Enterprises LLC and Common Cents Harvest Farms LLC, were used to receive the bribes.

In their capacity as lobbyists, Pierce and Brown are alleged to have paid Johnson thousands by “transferring client payments” from companies they controlled to Johnson’s companies.

Johnson was appointed to lead the now-defunct board by former Gov. Rick Snyder. It was later disbanded by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

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