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Cannabis grower pleads guilty to bribing SLO County supervisor

By   /   Thursday, July 29th, 2021  /   Comments Off on Cannabis grower pleads guilty to bribing SLO County supervisor

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A San Luis Obispo County cannabis grower and dispensary owner bribed the late County Supervisor Adam Hill and attempted to bribe the mayor of Grover Beach, and will plead guilty to federal bribery and tax crimes.

Helios Dayspring, who also goes by “Bobby,” agreed to a plea deal that was filed July 28 in federal court in Los Angeles and is likely to land him in prison for around 33 months. In the agreement, he says he paid Hill $32,000 in under-the-table cash and money orders between 2016 and 2019, along with free cannabis products and meals for the supervisor.

Dayspring did this, his plea agreement states, “with the understanding that, as opportunities arose,” Hill would vote in favor of permits and legislation benefiting Dayspring’s cannabis farms and dispensaries; lobby other public officials in support of such legislation; and give Dayspring non-public information regarding cannabis issues before the county government.

Dayspring also admitted to underreporting his taxable income by around $9 million between 2014 and 2018, resulting in an underpayment to the IRS of $3.4 million. For 2018, for example, he reported taxable income of $1.26 million when his actual income was more than $6.5 million.

The maximum sentence for the bribery and tax offense is 13 years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but Dayspring is likely to get a much lighter sentence in exchange for his guilty plea. The recommended range for his crimes under federal sentencing guidelines is between 33 and 41 months, and prosecutors have agreed to ask for a sentence at the low end of that range, if Dayspring continues to cooperate with authorities and follow the restrictions of his plea deal. Dayspring also agreed to pay his back taxes along with penalties and interest.

Adam Hill

Hill is not named in the plea agreement, which refers to “County Supervisor 1,” but he was clearly the target of the FBI’s investigation and the recipient of Dayspring’s bribes. He represented the 3rd District on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, which includes most of the city of San Luis Obispo as well as Avila Beach, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach, from 2008 until his death by suicide in August 2020.

Hill died after taking a leave from the board to seek mental health treatment. He had previously attempted suicide in March 2020, on the same day the FBI searched his home and his office in the county government building. In the following months, multiple sources in county government told the Business Times that FBI agents had interviewed them and asked about Hill, and about the county’s cannabis permitting process.

Dayspring, 35, owns cannabis farms in San Luis Obispo County as well as the Natural Healing Center dispensaries in San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Grover Beach.

At an event in October 2016, Dayspring gave Hill three separate $1,000 money orders, which Hill deposited into his personal account. Later that month, he gave hill $3,000 in cash, the first payment in what would amount to $29,000 in cash over the next three years.

The quid pro quo was clear, according to Dayspring’s plea agreement. The county approved a moratorium in September 2016 on growing cannabis in unincorporated areas, and Dayspring wanted the county to avoid enforcing that moratorium for existing growers.

The Board of Supervisors approved that abeyance for existing growers with the initial moratorium vote in September 2016. It later extended the abeyance in a series of votes over the next three and a half years. At first, these were 5-0 votes, but in 2019 and 2020 the votes were 3-2, with Hill casting a decisive vote.

Hill also cast other votes on regulations to allow more cannabis cultivation in San Luis Obispo County, and while Dayspring was paying him for his support. They exchanged numerous text messages about their arrangement, sometimes during board meetings, Dayspring’s plea agreement states. On April 6, 2019, Hill texted Dayspring and one of his employees, “your industry should give me one giant French kiss wrapped in money after my work today.”

In another text, Hill asked, “Where’s the industry support for my reelection??” and Dayspring responded, “we are the industry.”

In 2017, Dayspring also attempted to bribe the then-mayor of Grover Beach, John Shoals, referred to in the plea agreement as “Mayor 1.”

Shoals was one of two city council members on a subcommittee that oversaw cannabis dispensary permits. In 2017 the city began accepting permit applications, and Dayspring applied for two dispensary permits.

In September 2017, after those permit applications had been submitted Dayspring and one of his business partners had dinner with Shoals at a restaurant in Arroyo Grande. On the way to the restaurant, the business partner told Dayspring that Shoals wanted a bribe in exchange for the permits.

At some point during the meal, Shoals left the table to use the restroom, and while he was gone, the plea agreement states, the business partner told Dayspring “this was their chance to offer Mayor 1 a bribe.”

When Shoals returned to the table, Dayspring showed the mayor his cell phone, which had the number 100,000 displayed on the calculator app. Dayspring said it for “two,” meaning two dispensary permits.

Shoals did not respond to the offer, the plea agreement states. No money changed hands, and the city later awarded one permit to Dayspring’s dispensary.

Dayspring’s first court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 25 in Los Angeles. The FBI is still investigating the matter as part of what it calls “an ongoing public corruption investigation in San Luis Obispo County.”

Click here to read Helios Dayspring’s complete plea agreement.

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