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‘One giant French kiss wrapped in money’: Cannabis corruption in SLO County

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A high-profile figure in the Central Coast’s marijuana industry has agreed to plead guilty to bribing a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, the first charges to be made public in what a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Los Angeles called “an ongoing public corruption investigation.”

Helios “Bobby” Dayspring, 35, who owns marijuana farms and dispensaries up and down the Central Coast, will plead guilty to one count each of federal programs bribery and filing a false tax return, according to a plea agreement filed in federal court and unsealed Wednesday.

Dayspring also agreed to pay $3.4 million in restitution — the amount he kept from the Internal Revenue Service by underreporting his income — and to cooperate with prosecutors and agents from the IRS and FBI who are said to be probing corruption in San Luis Obispo County.

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Dayspring’s lawyer, Sandra Brown-Bodner, said her client “has fully accepted responsibility for his actions, has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate with the government.” He is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 25, having signed his plea agreement late last month.

The document is a sordid account of how a wheeler and dealer in the state’s nascent, ill-regulated marijuana industry corrupted one of San Luis Obispo County’s most powerful politicians, who was apparently brazen enough to write in a text message to his illicit benefactor that he deserved “one giant French kiss wrapped in money” after fighting off a proposal to ban outdoor cannabis grows.

In his plea agreement, Dayspring acknowledged funneling $29,000 in cash and $3,000 in money orders to a San Luis Obispo County supervisor who has since died. While the official isn’t identified by name in the plea agreement, Adam Hill, who represented the county’s 3rd District, died of an overdose of cocaine and antidepressants in August, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported.

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Authorities ruled Hill’s death a suicide. The supervisor had previously said he attempted suicide after federal agents served a search warrant at his government office in March 2020.

Dayspring said in his plea agreement that, in exchange for bribes, Hill took official actions that benefited his marijuana ventures, such as voting in favor of exempting certain cultivators from a moratorium on growing marijuana on unincorporated land and opposing a potential ban on outdoor grows.

Dayspring said he began paying Hill in 2016, starting with three $3,000 money orders that the supervisor deposited in his personal account. He paid Hill an additional $9,000 in cash through the following year, the plea agreement says.

In November 2017, the Board of Supervisors was weighing whether to offer certain growers an exemption, or abeyance, to a moratorium on cultivating marijuana on unincorporated county land. The board voted unanimously to grant the abeyance to growers who had registered with the county before the ban went into effect, a decision that benefited Dayspring, his plea agreement says.

Through 2018, Dayspring said he gave Hill $5,000 in cash and various “cannabis-related products,” his agreement says. He discussed with the supervisor the importance of keeping the abeyance in place, writing in a text message, “It’s really important u guys extend the timeframe for submission and don’t allow other people in yet,” according to the plea agreement.

In another message, Dayspring wrote that he had invested in several properties but warned that if he was not “deemed complete” and didn’t receive conditional-use permits, “I don’t get my ownership in the land.”

According to the plea agreement, Hill replied: “Got it. We’ll see what we can do. Extension of timeframe seems pretty reasonable and probably no one else in until everyone has been deemed complete.”

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The next day the Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 0 to extend the abeyances. Dayspring said he handed Hill $5,000 in cash outside a restaurant in Avila Beach not long after the vote, according to the plea agreement.

At another dinner in Pismo Beach, Dayspring said he picked up the tab and passed Hill an additional $5,000 in cash after they finished eating. Three weeks later, Dayspring and his business associates addressed the Board of Supervisors during the public comment period, urging the county to again extend the abeyance. Hill pushed his fellow supervisors to support an extension and moved to add it to the next meeting’s agenda; the motion failed.

The next week, Dayspring and his associates again spoke in favor of extending the abeyance; Hill again moved to place the item on the next meeting’s agenda, and this time, the board took it up for a vote. It passed, 3 to 2, with Hill voting in favor, according to the agreement.

Two months later, the Board of Supervisors was weighing whether to ban all outdoor marijuana cultivation, which would have dealt Dayspring a “significant financial loss,” the plea agreement says. During the meeting, Hill updated Dayspring with a string of text messages, writing that he “had to keep these f— from going way beyond and it is exhausting! Where’s the industry support for my reelection??”

Three days later, the agreement says, Hill sent Dayspring and one of his employees a text: “Tomorrow is your favorite County Supervisor’s birthday…what are you two [Cannabis] Kings gonna do for him??” Dayspring said they dined with Hill at a restaurant in Pismo Beach and gave the supervisor $5,000 in cash after the meal.

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A week later, Hill wrote in a message to Dayspring and his employee that “your industry should give me one giant French kiss wrapped in money after my work today.” At Hill’s request, Dayspring hosted at his home a political fundraiser that raised more than $13,000, according to the plea agreement.

Dayspring admitted that he had also tried to bribe the mayor of Grover Beach, a small city south of San Luis Obispo, where he was trying to open two marijuana dispensaries. Dayspring, a business partner and the city’s mayor, who wasn’t identified in the plea agreement, met at a restaurant in Arroyo Grande in 2017.

Before the meeting, Dayspring’s business partner said the mayor had been pushing for a bribe in exchange for granting their application for two dispensary permits. While they were eating, the mayor got up to use the restroom and Dayspring’s business partner said this was their chance to offer the bribe, the agreement says.

When the mayor returned to the table, Dayspring had typed “100,000” in the calculator app on his phone and showed it to the mayor, which he said was for “two.” In his plea agreement, Dayspring said he meant to convey that he was prepared to pay $100,000 for the mayor’s help in securing two dispensary permits.

The mayor, however, didn’t respond to Dayspring’s offer and no bribe was paid, the plea agreement says. Grover Beach officials ultimately awarded Dayspring one dispensary permit, according to the agreement.

Dayspring also acknowledged filing a tax return in 2019 that reported his taxable income as $1,262,894 when it in fact exceeded $6.5 million, the agreement says. He also underreported income on returns filed from 2014 to 2018, according to the agreement.

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