Helios Dayspring had one goal: to build a cannabis empire that, in his words, would be “too big to fail.”
But when he acquired hundreds of acres of land to grow the product and opened storefronts along California’s central coast to sell it, Dayspring’s ambition led him to bribe.
His target was a county overseer who, in exchange for cash and other perks, pushed for measures that furthered the interests of his secret benefactor and tried to stifle those who did not.
After a lengthy hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. sentenced Dayspring 22 months in prison for bribing a government official and filing a false tax return.
“What is worrying about this case is that it goes to the heart of the government’s process,” Birotte said, noting that just a few blocks from the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, several councilors at City Hall have been accused of accepting bribes. .
In the case of Dayspring, the bribes paid and the services rendered have left a dull public with the impression Birotte said, “that, ‘Hey, that’s the way it should be, but that’s the way it is done’.”
Dayspring began cultivating small amounts of cannabis around 2007 when he was given a prescription for medical marijuana, one of his lawyers, Sandra Brown Bodner, wrote in a court note.
He bought 40 acres of land in the mountains east of Santa Maria, lived on his property in a trailer with his two dogs and gained a reputation for cultivating “first-class produce,” his lawyer wrote.
Dayspring told the court on Friday that his life was “simply focused on building a business that was too big to fail. That no matter what was taken from me, I would always have the ability to find security for my family, my partners, my employees and ultimately myself. ”
He pleaded guilty in July to bribery and filing a false tax return.
In 2013, Dayspring delivered an estimated 30 legal dispensaries in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, his attorney wrote. Eventually, he acquired six growth sites and opened pharmacies in several cities on the Central Coast, ventures that earned him millions of dollars.
Dayspring’s lawyers said he had hired another lawyer to help him navigate a shifting morass of licensing and regulatory barriers while seeking to expand his business. The lawyer, whom they did not name, introduced Dayspring in 2016 to Adam Hill, a San Luis Obispo county supervisor, they said.
Attorney Brown Bodner suggested the attorney told Dayspring to bribe Hill, saying he was giving her client “not just incorrect, but frankly, illegal advice.”
Birotte seemed skeptical. “No one forced him to do that,” he remarked. “Maybe someone turned him to the game, but he took advantage of it.”
Eric Shevin, one of Dayspring’s lawyers, said the supervisor first appealed to the entrepreneur, saying his wife had left him and left him without furniture in his home and unable to pay his rent. The bribe, Shevin said, “seeped in.”
Hill died of an overdose of cocaine and antidepressants in August 2020, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported. Authorities believed it was a suicide.
“He’s honestly living with Adam Hill’s death,” Shevin said.
Prior to his death, the supervisor acknowledged that he had attempted suicide after agents ransacked his government office in March 2020. He had not been charged with a crime at the time of his death.
In his appeals deal, Dayspring admitted he first bribed Hill with three $ 3,000 money orders. He paid Hill an additional $ 9,000 in cash the following year, the deal said.
In November 2017, San Luis Obispo supervisors considered exempting certain growers from a moratorium on marijuana cultivation on unincorporated county land. The board voted unanimously to grant the exemption to breeders who had registered in the county before the ban took effect – a decision in favor of Dayspring, according to his plea.
The following year, Dayspring Hill donated $ 5,000 in cash and cannabis products. He urged the politician to maintain the exemption, but only for breeders like Dayspring who had already received it, and wrote in a text message: “It is really important that you extend the submission deadline and not allow other people yet.”
After the Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 0 to extend the exemptions, Dayspring said he handed Hill $ 5,000 in cash outside a restaurant in Avila Beach.
Shevin claimed Friday that Hill did not take any action that benefited Dayspring alone, but rather a group of breeders who had all applied for the exemption. That idea shot Birotte down.
“The reality is that Mr. Dayspring did not give the supervisor money from the goodness of his heart,” the judge said.
Dayspring also admitted he tried to bribe the mayor of Grover Beach, a small town south of San Luis Obispo. The mayor did not respond to the offer, and no money changed hands, according to Dayspring’s request.
Dayspring’s lawyers blamed in part for his crimes on the unnamed lawyer and other professionals he had hired to help “navigate a comprehensive, confusing and burgeoning regulatory framework” as the state sought to move the marijuana industry out of the black market and to a legal.
Prosecutors acknowledged that the state’s infantile cannabis industry is “full of corruption,” but they directly blamed Dayspring itself.
“He was trying to fix the game,” Thomas Rybarczyk, an assistant U.S. attorney, told Birotte. “Make sure no one else came in. He was the cannabis king.”
Rybarczyk pointed to a text Dayspring sent to another person in the cannabis industry. “I got my fingers in the political cake tin,” he wrote, “and want to make sure the market stays a local.”
Dayspring got a head start in another corrupt way, the prosecutor added: From 2014 to 2018, he filed false tax returns that deprived the Internal Revenue Service of nearly $ 3.5 million. It was reasonable to assume that he used this capital to expand his business interests, “an advantage not enjoyed by those who played by the rules,” Rybarczyk said. He urged Birotte to send Dayspring to jail for two years and three months.
Dayspring’s lawyers had asked the judge to spare him from jail and instead sentence him to three years probation. Brown Bodner said he had provided “extraordinary” cooperation in investigations into public corruption in the Central Coast.
On the instructions of the authorities, Dayspring met with a public official wearing a wire, she said, and he agreed to testify before a grand jury and in the trial if asked.
But Rybarczyk said there was nothing extraordinary about Dayspring’s collaboration: he provided information on four people, none of whom led to any investigations; his secret recording of the public official captured “nothing criminal” and went nowhere, the prosecutor said.
Dayspring’s lawyers also urged Birotte to consider his gift to charity, saying he handed out turkeys and held toy rides for the needy.
“If I make $ 30 million, it’s great,” the judge said. “I give toys out to everyone.”
Birotte ordered Dayspring to surrender by Aug. 26 to serve his prison sentence.