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Former Speaker received 'commercial sex' as bribes for medical marijuana licenses, feds say

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By. Arpan Lobo Detroit Free Press

In addition to cash payments and private jet travel, former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson received "thousands of dollars worth of commercial sex" with a sex worker as bribes during his time as chair of the now-defunct Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, according to a federal court filing published Thursday.

Johnson and three other individuals have been charged and pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in the bribery scheme. The first individual to plead guilty, John Dalaly, received a 28-month federal prison sentence Thursday during a hearing in Grand Rapids. During the hearing, his attorney Raymond Cassar said Dalaly had no involvement with the sex worker being provided to Johnson.

According to a sentencing memo filed by federal prosecutors in Johnson's case, "Johnson demanded and received at least $110,200 in bribes while he was MMLB Chair, including cash payments, a $20,000 'loan' with no repayment terms or demand, flights on private aircraft, and thousands of dollars’ worth of commercial sex with a woman in the adult entertainment industry."

"In return, Johnson provided an unfair advantage to bribe payers in the form of his favorable vote on license applications, his help and support throughout the licensing process, and confidential inside information pertaining to the Board’s work and other applicants." In the memo, prosecutors write that Johnson should face at least 71 months in prison and pay a fine of $110,200, equal to the amount of bribes. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

At one point during Dalaly's sentencing, Cassar told U.S. District Judge Jane Beckering that Dalaly was not involved with providing a sex worker for Johnson. Beckering appeared to be aware of the sex worker's involvement. Following the hearing, Cassar told reporters that he wanted to "make it clear that Mr. Dalaly had nothing to do with having a sex worker involved with Mr. Johnson."

"There were some rumblings that Mr. Johnson not only accepted payments (for) bribes, but there are some rumblings and there's some indication from the government, that there was also a sex worker involved," Cassar said. "And my position today, and I made it clear, was that Mr. Dalaly was not involved in that whatsoever, and the court accepted that and the government also."

According to the sentencing memo filed Thursday, Johnson, Dalaly and lobbyists Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown, who have also pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme, had a system to mask the bribes. Johnson carried two cell phones to throw off investigators, prosecutors wrote, and was also referred to as "Batman," by a bat emoji, or as "our friend" when discussing bribe payments.

In one exchange detailed by prosecutors, Brown told Pierce "That’s why happy batman is a great batman," something prosecutors wrote was an indication of the influence the former speaker held over the lobbyists.

"The manner in which the payments were moved through LLCs and disguised demonstrate that everyone, including Johnson, knew that what they were doing was unlawful," prosecutors wrote. "Finally, Johnson’s repeated use of a prostitute who was paid to have sex with him on multiple occasions by businessmen seeking his help and licenses from the state is abhorrent behavior. In their totality, Johnson’s criminal acts and his attempt to evade law enforcement are utterly disgraceful and worthy of punishment well above the low-end of the advisory guideline range for a bribery offense."

The memo also states Pierce paid at least $2,000 to the woman who had sex with Johnson. Exchanging money for sexual acts, or prostitution, is illegal in Michigan, according to the Criminal Defense Law Center of West Michigan. Pierce has not been charged with any prostitution-related offenses. As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors agreed not to bring additional charges stemming from the bribery conspiracy, as long as Pierce disclosed them to investigators.

Johnson pleaded guilty in April and agreed to cooperate fully with federal investigators as part of his plea agreement. His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 28 in front of Beckering. Dalaly has said as part of the scheme, he provided $4,000 in monthly payments to Johnson's wife Janice under the guise of "consulting fees." Janice Johnson has not been charged in the case, as part of her husband's plea agreement.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten previously said the investigation into the corruption scheme remained open and additional charges are possible. Johnson, a Republican from LeRoy, was House speaker in 2001-04. He came under scrutiny from the Free Press in 2017 when former Gov. Rick Snyder named Johnson, who was a registered lobbyist from 2005 until 2016, to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer dismantled the board via executive order in 2019, shortly after Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2018.

Contact Arpan Lobo: Follow him on X (Twitter) @arpanlobo. Become a subscriber today.


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