New details show sprawling web of corruption in Southern California cannabis licensing
As a California lawmaker called for a statewide task force to crack down on corruption in the legal cannabis market, new details are emerging in a bribery scandal that has ensnared local government officials from the Inland Empire to the San Gabriel Valley and southeast Los Angeles County.
Federal prosecutors have unveiled two plea agreements that detail pay-to-play schemes involving cannabis business licensing and corroborate allegations in a Times investigation last month that examined how legalization of weed unleashed a wave of corruption across California.
In one of the agreements, former Baldwin Park City Councilmember Ricardo Pacheco admitted soliciting bribes from weed businesses — including $150,000 from a consultant working for a local cannabis distributor. The consultant declined, but at the direction of the FBI delivered campaign contributions requested by Pacheco, the agreement said. The agreement doesn’t name the distributor, but its description of the dates the firm was awarded the exclusive right to distribute cannabis matches only one company, Rukli Inc.
In the other plea agreement, a former San Bernardino County planning commissioner, Gabriel Chavez, admitted acting as an intermediary to funnel bribes from pot businesses to Pacheco as part of the scheme.
Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) asked state Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta in writing Thursday to create a task force to examine corruption in local cannabis licensing and ensure that cities are awarding permits without favoritism. She cited The Times investigation, along with recent corruption prosecutions.
“My hope is that this task force will investigate and prosecute any illegal activity tied to awarding cannabis licenses,” Garcia wrote in her letter to Bonta. “I also hope that your office is able to create a road map for future cities to ensure pay-to-play schemes and any illegal activity associated with cannabis licensing ends.”
Also in response to The Times investigation, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said he planned to request a state audit on cannabis licensing.
Other state officials have responded to The Times’ recent investigation of legal weed, particularly the newspaper’s findings that legalization triggered a surge in outlaw cannabis grows. The grows have engulfed entire communities and resulted in environmental damage, increased violence and exploitation of workers, including some who have died from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators while trying to keep warm.
Published: October 16, 2022
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