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Lobbyists Get Prison for Michigan Marijuana Bribery Scheme

One told the judge "I was too foolish and blinded by the dollars."

Rick Johnson chairs the committee as it meets before a capacity crowd in Lansing, Mich., June 26, 2017, at the first open meeting of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Board.
Rick Johnson chairs the committee as it meets before a capacity crowd in Lansing, Mich., June 26, 2017, at the first open meeting of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Board.
Dale G Young/Detroit News via AP, File

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) β€” Two lobbyists were sentenced to federal prison Wednesday for conspiring to provide $42,000 in bribes to the head of a Michigan marijuana licensing board.

Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown were partners and consultants for the state's fledgling marijuana industry when Rick Johnson, formerly known as a powerful Republican lawmaker, led the board in 2017-19.

Pierce was sentenced to two years in prison while Brown received a 20-month term from U.S. District Judge Jane Beckering.

"Choices were made, and each time they were the wrong ones," Pierce told the judge.

The board reviewed and approved applications to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes. Johnson was recently sentenced to more than four years in prison for accepting $110,000 when he was in charge.

Pierce was greedy and in a "dark place" when he conspired to bribe Johnson, defense attorney Ben Gonek said in a court filing.

Prosecutors said the corruption included paying a Detroit stripper $2,000 to have sex with Johnson.

"They owned Rick Johnson. ... They cheated, and they put at a disadvantage those people who followed the rules," U.S. Attorney Mark Totten told reporters outside court.

In a letter to the judge, Brown said he followed Pierce's "lead in virtually every facet" of being a lobbyist.

"I was too foolish and blinded by the dollars to refuse to participate in the bribery scheme," Brown said.

Four people pleaded guilty. A Detroit-area businessman who paid bribes, John Dalaly, was recently sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Michigan voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2008. A decade later, voters approved the recreational use of marijuana.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer abolished the medical marijuana board a few months after taking office in 2019 and put oversight of the industry inside a state agency.


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