Legal marijuana has turned Kern County government into a muddy mosh pit of criminal and ethical accusations over the past month.
The story is complex and the stakes for those involved are high.
Some politicians elected to office by the public have been accused of taking bribes and building inappropriately close relationships with special interest lobbying groups.
Criminal investigations have been requested.
This series of stories will help the public understand what’s going on with their government and the people who lead it.
Two county supervisors and a marijuana shop owner are at the center of conflict.
A lot of the mud is being slung by David Abbasi, a cannabis advocate and the owner of three cannabis shops that have been shuttered by city and county bans on marijuana businesses.
But Abbasi doesn’t see city and county marijuana regulations being enforced on a level playing field.
He said his shops have been closed because he refuses to “pay to play” just so he can be a part of a secret-marijuana-shop monopoly he believes is being created by political consultants with help from elected officials they have bribed.
Over the past two weeks he has made his claims public with sworn statements delivered to the County of Kern.
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Those he has accused of crimes have denied them.
But Abbasi’s close personal friendship with Supervisor Leticia Perez and her husband Fernando Jara has escalated his claims into a higher sphere.
And they come on the heels of accusations by Supervisor Mike Maggard that Perez and Jara have teamed up with marijuana interests to run an opposition candidate against him in the June primary election.
Here’s how we got to where we are now.
The Bakersfield City Council reinforced an existing ban on medicinal and recreational cannabis on Oct. 11, 2017.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors followed suit on Oct. 24, voting against a detailed regulation policy drafted by the Kern County Planning and Resources Department as part of an environmental impact report.
Perez was the only vote against the county ban.
The lobbying on both sides of the county ban was intense and marijuana advocates were angered by supervisors’ 4-1 vote to ban.
They were especially angry at a depiction by Maggard of medical marijuana shop clients as vagrants who urinate, defecate and fornicate in the areas around the existing shops.
Not long after that a series of mocking advertisements began to target Maggard, claiming he was insensitive to medical marijuana patients.
Those ads escalated into personal attacks on Maggard’s career, claiming he only works one day a week and has used his county position to buy himself a beach house on the central coast and a fancy car.
Maggard categorically denies claims against his work ethic.
The ads have kept coming.
They’ve been tracked back to a couple of pro-marijuana political action committees led by Bakersfield businessman T.J. Esposito, a former mayoral candidate, and Ben Eilenberg, a Riverside attorney whose license to practice law currently is suspended.
Abbasi also shared the ads around the social media universe.
Esposito, Eilenberg and Abbasi have connections to Perez and Jara.
Maggard went on two talk radio shows on Jan. 9 and — when asked about the attack ads — pointed the finger at his fellow supervisor and her husband.
Perez and Jara, he said, are trying to remove him from the board.
And Perez, Maggard said, is using “illegal pot shop money to fund that effort and not reveal that to the public. And that’s what I think is the fraud that is being foisted upon Kern County.”
Maggard alleged his opponent, City of Bakersfield firefighter Jeff Heinle, was promised marijuana money to help him win.
Perez fired back that, despite the fact Heinle and Abbasi were her friends, she was not involved in the groups going after Maggard or Heinle’s campaign.
Her husband had done some work for marijuana interests in other parts of the state but they cleared the work with County Counsel Mark Nations before Perez voted on the marijuana issue in October 2017, she said.
Nations said he did clear her for a vote — based on information Perez and Jara gave him at the time.
Shops shut down
During that time Abbasi’s business was collapsing.
In October 2017, the City of Bakersfield raided a host of marijuana shops after warning them that they were in violation of city ordinances.
Abbasi’s Green Cross Collective on Niles Street was raided and closed in early November 2017.
In December, his two Kern County shops were declared illegal after county inspections found they had not been in continuous operation at their current location since May 10, 2016 — the point at which county supervisors created a moratorium on new shops.
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Abbasi claimed that there were a couple of political consultants — Jimmy Yee and Kim Schaefer — who were taking money from marijuana groups and using it to pay Kern County supervisors and make backroom deals with city regulators.
Yee’s attorney and Schaefer have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Abbasi has promised to provide proof of his accusations, but has yet to deliver.
Yee and Schaefer had close connections to Supervisor Maggard and Schaefer was employed by a group called Kern Citizens for Patient Rights and its attorney Phil Ganong.
At the time, shops that Ganong represented in the City of Bakersfield, and some county shops that collaborate with Kern Citizens, were still in operation.
Ganong’s shops were eventually closed in the city.
City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said there was no backdoor deal.
Kern Citizens is supporting an initiative that would overturn the city’s marijuana ban.
Over the past three weeks Abbasi has made his claims public.
On Jan. 23 he declared that Yee and Schaefer were working with Maggard to create a ban on cannabis and then open a limited number of dispensaries for the clients of the two government and business consultants.
Then, over the Super Bowl weekend, Abbasi and his attorney fired off a series of declarations claiming that Schaefer and Yee had tried to bribe Perez on a vote regarding the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program and had succeeded in bribing other county supervisors. In declarations, additional names were not disclosed.
On Feb. 6 Schaefer and Yee’s attorney, Richard Monji, went before the board to formally deny the claims.
Schaefer said Abbasi’s claims were serious and completely false.
“This false, slanderous statement is outrageous and unconscionable,” she said.
But Abbasi doubled down in his own statements, calling out Perez in front of the board.
He said her husband was a “zombie on a cocktail of prescriptions wasting away in a room” because of his PTSD until Abassi helped him find a solution through cannabis.
He demanded that the county reinstate his dispensaries.
Abbasi said he’s been collecting audio, visuals, e-mails, documents and texts that show that Perez and Maggard are feuding with each other over which of their medical marijuana groups get to be in business in Kern County.
Supervisors ordered Kern County Counsel Nations to investigated the claims.
© 2018 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.). Visit The Bakersfield Californian at www.bakersfield.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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