Aspiring hemp growers in Texas swindled in alleged corruption scheme

Aspiring hemp growers in Texas swindled in alleged corruption scheme

Hemp offers hope for some Georgia farmers despite two major challenges Reading Aspiring hemp growers in Texas swindled in alleged corruption scheme 5 minutes Next Could CBD give a racehorse an unfair advantage?

Todd Smith, the top political consultant to Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller, was recently arrested for his alleged role in a scheme to solicit money and campaign contributions in exchange for hemp licenses.

Following his May 6 arrest, 59-year-old Smith was charged with third degree felony theft. The arrest warrant alleges that he took $55,000 as part of the scheme. Smith and others involved in the scheme allegedly solicited a total of $150,000 from their victims.

Miller’s Texas Department of Agriculture issues state hemp licenses like the ones that aspiring hemp farmers allegedly paid Smith to acquire. Miller reportedly told Texas Tribune that he “had no idea” about the alleged scheme, adding that the incident occurred between Smith and Smith’s clients.

Miller clarified for Texas Tribune that a hemp license only costs $100 per year through the Department of Agriculture.

A middle man laid the groundwork for the alleged scam

Unfortunately, aspiring hemp farmer Andre Vinson must not have realized this because he fell victim to Smith’s alleged scheme, which was put into motion by a third party who approached Vinson at a social gathering in 2019.

This middle man, named in the warrant as Keenan Williams, reportedly told Vinson that there would only be 15 hemp licenses issued in the entire state and that Vinson would need $150,000 in cash to be guaranteed one of those licenses. Vinson reportedly agreed and collected the funds from his business associates. One of those business associates handed off $25,000 cash to Williams in a bank parking lot, per the agreement between Williams and Vinson.

The warrant states, “Vinson was under the impression that the $25,000.00 cash was for a hemp survey and required to get a hemp license. Vinson never received any information, agreement, invoice, or results of the hemp survey.”

Requests for more and more money

During the alleged meeting with Vinson’s associate, Williams convinced Vinson that he needed another $25,000 in cash for the hemp license. However, Vinson’s associate was reportedly concerned about handing over more cash, so she wrote two checks instead. One check was made out to Williams for $15,000, and the other check was made out to Smith for $10,000. According to the warrant, bank records show that both checks were cashed.

Later that year, Williams reportedly requested an additional $30,000 in cash, which Vinson provided.

Several people had been offered a deal

Then, near the end of 2019, Vinson reportedly learned that anyone who submitted a valid application would be able to obtain a hemp license. At this point, he reportedly called Smith about the money he had given to Williams. According to the warrant, Smith denied having any knowledge of those transactions, but he admitted that he had received a $5,000 gift from Williams.

The warrant states that Williams was under the impression that Smith would be providing him and Vinson each a hemp license. All of his knowledge of the licensing process reportedly came from Smith.

However, Vinson was not the only person approached with this kind of deal.

“Williams, who was arrested in February in connection with the scheme, collectively approached at least six people about paying for hemp licenses. Two of them . . . paid,” reported Austin’s local NPR station.

The other victim to the scheme lost $25,000, which was allegedly paid for survey services that never transpired. The warrant also indicates that at least one other person who was approached with the scheme suspected that it was a scam and reported it.

The work of a lobbyist

On May 6, Texas Rangers arrested Smith at a traffic stop. He was booked in jail, though he was reportedly released less than 24 hours later on a personal recognizance bond. Bail was reportedly set at $10,000. Smith’s attorneys, Sam Bassett and Perry Minton, reportedly said that during Smith’s brief time in jail, he “sat down with law enforcement for several hours and fully cooperated by answering all of their questions.”

“With absolutely nothing to hide, he did so without requesting a lawyer be present on his behalf,” the attorneys told Texas Tribune.

Smith’s attorneys reportedly said in a statement that Smith “never violated any laws and did not steal anything from anyone.” They claimed that Smith was paid for his services as a lobbyist and “performed these very duties” for aspiring hemp farmers. They added that Smith “never guaranteed anyone a particular outcome of any kind.”

However, the warrant states that “Smith never registered Williams, Vinson, or South and West Land as clients of his lobbyist services in 2019.”

A history of questionable actions

Texas Tribune reported that Smith has been “under scrutiny” before for telling a businessman that he could get a Texas Department of Agriculture appointment after donating to Miller’s campaign. Then, Smith reportedly asked the businessman for a $29,000 personal loan.

“Years earlier, Miller created four new assistant commissioner positions and gave one of them to Smith’s wife, Kellie Housewright-Smith. The positions had annual salaries exceeding $180,000, making them among the highest-paid employees at the [Texas Department of Agriculture],” the Texas Tribune article adds.

The court proceedings for Smith and Williams have reportedly not started yet. It is not yet clear how this case will turn out in court, but they each reportedly face up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.