Central California

Texts appear to show county supervisor’s husband took money to arrange access for cannabis groups

The husband of Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez appears to have asked for money to set up a meeting between his wife and a local marijuana dispensary group as supervisors were grappling with how to regulate marijuana in the county, according to a text message exchange obtained by The Bakersfield Californian.

The texts also appeared to show her husband — Fernando Jara — offered the marijuana group access to new rules proposed for the local marijuana industry that had not been made public.

“If you guys are serious, I have the info,” Jara said in the message in May 2017, referring to draft rules on how the county could regulate marijuana. “I can only Hold so long as I have others waiting on it.”

The messages were between Jara and David Abbasi, a local medical marijuana dispensary owner and president of Central Valley Cannabis Association.

Abbasi’s attorney Abraham Labbad provided screenshots of the text messages to The Californian.

Labbad said in an interview that Abbasi paid between $5,000-8,000 to Jara in early 2017 to advocate for his medical marijuana dispensary business, a deal that was eventually cut off when Abbasi became uncomfortable with the nature of Jara’s work.

In July, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office charged Perez with two misdemeanors relating to conflicts of interest between her role as supervisor and the marijuana industry. The charges allege Perez used “her official position to influence a governmental decision in which she knew or had reason to know she had a financial interest.” Perez cast the lone vote against a motion banning commercial cannabis in the county in October 2017.

Perez pled not guilty to the charges.

A Kern County Superior Court judge, acting on behest of the DA, has issued a gag order, which prohibited all parties involved in the case from speaking about it outside of court.

Citing the gag order, Perez refused to comment for this story.

Jara could not be reached for comment and a phone number recently associated with Jara had been disconnected.

Abbasi also said he could not speak about the case because he was subject to the gag order.

Labbad said he had been exempted from the gag order.

The messages

At the time of the text message exchange, Jara did consultancy work through his firm Savage Communications.

“Fernando Jara has no experience in politics except that he could sell his wife’s vote,” Labbad said. “And apparently that in and of itself makes you a political consultant.”

Jara has previously claimed he did not take money for work in Kern County.

On March 19, 2017, Jara apparently sent a message to Abbasi saying his wife would like to have an “in-depth” conversation with his group about the local marijuana industry.

“If we are officially beginning, I would like to pick up my April fees today or tomorrow from the group,” Jara wrote in the message. “So long as they are part of ‘your’ group, I will charge one price for everyone: 3000. Please let the members know this is ‘your’ rate. Individually the rate would be nearly 3x the am.”

At the time, the county was trying to come up with rules to regulate marijuana dispensaries since voters had passed an initiative that would soon legalize recreational marijuana sales in the state.

The board ultimately voted in October 2017 to institute a blanket ban on all dispensaries in the county. Perez was the only supervisor to vote against the ban. She later said she would abstain from all marijuana votes after being criticized for conflicts of interest.

The second text message exchanges seems to depict Jara offering to provide insight into what the county’s regulations could be, as long as he received his monthly fee.

“David, I have the first info on County regs for cultivation and dispensary,” he is shown to have said in a message to Abbasi.

Later in the message, he seems to have said, “Please have your group collect the remainder of my fees. The info will be out in the public in a few weeks. You guys will have to move fast.”

Abbasi then responded, saying he was hesitant to move forward without building permits and regulations.

The exchange is cut off with Abbasi and Jara discussing the location of Abbasi’s medical marijuana dispensary relative to the Boys and Girls Clubs.

“Okay. We need to talk soon…” is the last message from Jara provided in the screenshots of the text message exchange.

A pretrial hearing for the DA’s case against Perez has been scheduled for Oct. 5.

It is unknown if the text messages provided to The Californian are part of the DA’s case against Perez.

© 2018 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.). Visit The Bakersfield Californian at www.bakersfield.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.