LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — The FBI and U.S. Attorney Mark Totten held a press conference in Lansing Thursday to announce charges in a “public corruption scheme” involving a prominent former Michigan lawmaker.
Officials announced charges against former Michigan Speaker of the House Rick Johnson for accepting bribes. Three other private citizens were also charged.
Johnson was chairman of the medical marijuana board in Michigan for two years until spring 2019. The Republican also was one of the most powerful lawmakers in the Capitol, serving as House speaker from 2001-04.
“Public corruption is a poison to any democracy. … That poison is especially toxic here,” Totten said. “The marijuana industry has been likened to a modern-day gold rush, a new frontier where participants can stake their claim and just maybe return big rewards.”
The marijuana board reviewed and approved applications to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes.
Totten said Johnson was at the heart of the scheme, and accepted more than $100,000 in cash and other payments and did so with the understanding that by accepting the money he would help the people get the licenses.
Johnson accepted $110,200 in cash and benefits from at least two companies while voting in favor of granting them marijuana licenses, according to the charge filed in federal court in Grand Rapids.
Johnson “provided valuable non-public information about the anticipated rules and operation of the board and assistance with license application matters,” the court filing states.
A man who was seeking a license was charged with paying bribes, and two lobbyists were charged with a bribery conspiracy.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer abolished the medical marijuana board in 2019, a few months after taking office, and put oversight of the industry inside a state agency.
Michigan voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2008. A decade later, voters approved the recreational use of marijuana.
All four people involved have agreed to a plea deal and are cooperating, officials said.
The press conference started at 10 a.m. in downtown Lansing.
Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan James A. Tarasca was also in attendance.
You can watch the press conference as it starts at the top of the page