According to a federal lawsuit filed today, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido conspired to derail a grassroots marijuana initiative in the city while soliciting cash from existing pot clubs who the Mayor allegedly promised winning slots in a Feb. 5 city-sponsored marijuana dispensary lottery. The lawsuit claims the payments were used to pay for gathering public support for the city's favored pot initiative.
The original Measure CC (which allowed for an unspecified number of pot collectives to apply for licenses) was defeated in the November 2014 election by the city-backed Measure BB, which allowed for licenses to be granted to only 20 dispensaries following a lottery process.
So far, no dispensaries have been granted licenses, and Santa Ana police have raided clubs operating in the city illegally, including lawsuit plaintiff Sky High Holistic Collective, where officers infamously insulted Marla James, an amputee (and co-plaintiff in the lawsuit), and were captured on camera apparently eating pot edibles and throwing darts in an incident that went viral late last week.
The lawsuit was filed this morning in the U.S. District Court Central District of California by attorney Matthew Pappas, who last Thursday released footage of the May 26 raid on Sky High Holistic. It does not name the dispensaries that allegedly paid cash to Mayor Pulido.
"Prior to the November 2014 election, a person hired by the city to support the Measure BB campaign solicited $25,000.00 payments from various people affiliated with existing medical marijuana collectives in or around the City of Santa Ana and promised successful inclusion in the Lottery and assistance finding a collective location if the $25,000.00 was provided to support Measure BB," the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit charges that "Pulido, several [unnamed] defendants, existing marijuana entities in Santa Ana and other individuals affiliated with the city met, discussed and conspired to have Measure BB placed on the ballot to compete with the signature based, grass roots Measure CC and that such action was taken to ensure a pecuniary benefit inured to those entities, individuals and CITY officials."
Without citing specific evidence, the lawsuit also claims the bribes took place between June and August 2014. "[A]t the same time the City Council had been presented with proposed Measure BB, PULIDO and other city officials named as Doe defendants were receiving benefits, including limousine services, expensive dinners and shows, currency and gifts from individuals and entities seeking to establish control over the Santa Ana marijuana market."
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges, "Pulido received financial benefits from a medical marijuana collective in Santa Ana, intervened to warn that collective when city action was pending, was observed at the collective and intervened with police officials on behalf of the collective. Prior to the February 2015 permit lottery, various Santa Ana medical marijuana permit applicants submitted multiple lottery applications and paid multiple fees in an effort to subvert the process and win permits in the city."
As the Weekly has already reported, while the city knew there were only a limited number–about 20 to be exact–of street addresses where proposed dispensaries would be able to operate, officials placed no limit on the number of applications it would accept. According to the lawsuit, applicants that won the lottery had "solicited individuals to serve in the stead of the applicant for purpose of the multiple applications made. Several of these applicants won marijuana permits."
Following the lottery, the lawsuit alleges, "Santa Ana police officials, other city officials and city employees met at various times and places, individually and through attorneys or representatives, and agreed to create an Enforcement Program the purpose of which was to eliminate existing Santa Ana medical marijuana patient collectives that had operated for years in the city thereby eliminating competition for the successful permit applicants and collectives in which city officials and employees have pecuniary or membership interests."
That Enforcement Program "incorporated strong-arm tactics designed to result in permanent removal of competing medical marijuana dispensaries already operating in the city but that were not successful in the lottery." Those strong-arm tactics included terminating water and power to illegally-operating pot clubs and "destructive police raids designed to cause such massive damage to property so as to prevent collectives from operating further and prevent them from mounting any legal challenge to the city's illegal actions."
Although the lawsuit contains no specific evidence of bribes either solicited by Pulido or paid to him, it does contain specific examples of alleged police abuses against lottery losers such as the Sky High Holistic Collective. These alleged abuses, which were caught on video, include officers "intentionally causing thousands of dollars of damage to the property," confiscating thousands of dollars of currency as well as marijuana medication, consuming "food products that were the property of the collective," an apparent reference to what looks like an officer eating pot candy after the raid, and making "discriminatory statements about Plaintiff Marla James, who is a disabled individual protected by state and federal anti-discrimination laws."
In a June 8 email provided to the Weekly by Pappas, Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia Carvalho indicates that she was aware of his allegations. "I understand that you have told several people that you have information indicating that elected officials in the city of Santa Ana have business relationships with one or more medical cannabis dispensaries operating in the city," Carvalho wrote. "I understand that you also believe elected officials are sharing confidential city information about enforcement operations with dispensary operators. Do you have documents or names of people that can substantiate these allegations? If so, would you feel comfortable sharing this information with me or outside law enforcement agencies?"
In an email this morning, Alma Flores, a city communications manager, said "the City of Santa Ana does not comment on pending litigation."
Attorney Pappas is expected to formally announce the lawsuit at a press conference today in Long Beach.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).