“Public corruption is a poison to any democracy. Those who wield the power of state have a sacred obligation to serve the people they represent.”
By Ken Coleman, Michigan Advance
Mark Totten, U.S. attorney for Michigan’s Western District, on Thursday announced that four people were charged in federal court for participating in the bribery of Rick Johnson, former chair of the Michigan Marijuana Licensing Board.
Johnson was appointed to the post by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder after being nominated by then-Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive). Johnson previously served as a Republican House speaker between 2001 and 2004 before becoming a prominent lobbyist in Lansing.
All four defendants are cooperating with the investigation and have agreed to plead guilty to their offense, per the U.S. attorney’s office. They have agreed to plead guilty in written plea agreements that will be filed with the court.
“Public corruption is a poison to any democracy. Those who wield the power of state have a sacred obligation to serve the people they represent. But when a government official takes a bribe, they spurn that solemn duty—in favor of the connected, the crooked, and ultimately themselves,” said Totten. “Now and always, my office will place the highest priority on rooting out public corruption, with independence and impartiality.”
Here are the charges:
- Johnson, who served in the state House between 1999 and 2004, was charged with accepting a bribe, a felony offense punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
- John Dalaly of West Bloomfield was charged with payment of a bribe, a felony offense punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
- Brian Pierce of Midland was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, a felony offense punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
- Vincent Brown of Royal Oak was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, a felony offense punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Johnson was a member and the chairperson of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board (MMLB) between May 2017 and April 2019. Dalaly operated two companies that were formed with the purpose of obtaining various operating licenses from the MMLB or exploring the licensing of a digital currency platform for medical marijuana financial transactions.
Pierce and Brown were lobbyists doing business as Philip Alan Brown Consulting LLC and Michigan Grower’s Consultants LLC, who lobbied on behalf of businesses and individuals who were seeking operating licenses from the MMLB.
Johnson allegedly 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 MMLB chair. The cash payments were allegedly made to three business entities, which Johnson used to accept payments from the companies, Philip Alan Brown Consulting, LLC, and Michigan Grower’s Consultants, LLC, to help hide those payments to Johnson, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
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, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Johnson’s plea agreement states that he accepted more than $100,000 in cash payments and benefits while he was a member and chairperson of the MMLB.
Dalaly’s plea agreement states that he gave at least $68,200 in cash payments and other benefits to Johnson, including paying for Johnson’s travel on two private chartered flights to Canada.
Pierce’s and Brown’s plea agreements state that they caused at least $42,000 in cash payments and other benefits to be given to Johnson. The defendants have agreed to cooperate with the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in the investigation of the charges as well as of any other federal crimes, including “full, complete and truthful interviews and testimony.”
“It is always a sad day when someone who enjoys the trust of the people abuses that trust for his or her personal gain,” said James Tarasca, FBI special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan. “Public corruption is a top investigative priority for the FBI and today’s charges represent our continued commitment to working with the United States Attorney’s Office to ensure residents receive the fair and honest government to which they are entitled.”