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SLO County to 'review' Dayspring cannabis permits in wake of bribery charges 

San Luis Obispo County and three local cities are conducting internal reviews of their cannabis programs after Natural Healing Center dispensary founder Helios Dayspring pleaded guilty to bribing late SLO County 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill and attempting to bribe former Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals in exchange for favorable votes and permits.

click to enlarge CORRUPTION Late SLO County 3rd District Adam Hill accepted $32,000 in bribes from cannabis businessman Helios Dayspring, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • CORRUPTION Late SLO County 3rd District Adam Hill accepted $32,000 in bribes from cannabis businessman Helios Dayspring, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a plea deal with Dayspring on July 28 in which Dayspring admitted to paying bribes to Hill totaling $32,000 between 2016 and 2019. The bribes, given to Hill intermittently in cash or money orders, led to Hill casting votes and pushing for policies at the county that favored Dayspring's businesses and the cannabis industry, according to the DOJ.

After one Board of Supervisors meeting in April 2019, Hill reportedly texted Dayspring: "[Y]our industry should give me one giant French kiss wrapped in money after my work today."

In 2017, Dayspring also attempted to bribe former Grover Beach Mayor Shoals in exchange for two cannabis dispensary permits in the city, according to the plea deal. Shoals did not accept the $100,000 bribe, but Dayspring did ultimately receive one dispensary permit from the Grover Beach City Council in 2018.

The DOJ also charged Dayspring with tax evasion for underreporting roughly $9 million in personal income between 2014 and 2018. He'll have to pay $3.4 million in restitution to the IRS, plus penalties, according to the plea. Dayspring faces up to 13 years in prison for the crimes, a length that includes sentencing reductions for his cooperation.

SLO County Chief Administrative Officer Wade Horton wrote a message to the entire county organization on July 30 following the DOJ's announcement.

"It's with extreme disappointment that I learned about former Supervisor Hill's poor decision to participate in bribery," Horton wrote. "Corruption will never be tolerated in our organization."

As the public reels from the news, county and city officials addressed questions about what happens next. Natural Healing Center currently operates dispensaries in Grover Beach and Morro Bay, and has plans to open one soon in San Luis Obispo. The company also owns cannabis farms throughout SLO County. Dayspring is no longer CEO or an agent for the company, having transferred that title to his girlfriend, Valnette Garcia.

Trevor Keith, planning and building director at SLO County, said that all county cannabis permits or permit applications that are tied to Dayspring are now under review.

"The county administrative officer, county counsel, and the director of planning and building immediately began a review of all issues that may arise because of the charges and plea agreement that may pertain to county operations," Keith told New Times via email. "This review includes all decisions that may be called into question because of former Supervisor Adam Hill's actions or votes. All land use permits and licenses which involve Mr. Dayspring are being evaluated.

"In the meantime, and until a full evaluation can be made," he continued, "no cannabis application or project which directly involves (or involved) Mr. Dayspring will be moving forward."

Keith said the county is currently evaluating how many cannabis permits and applications that entails.

In Grover Beach, Morro Bay, and SLO, all three city managers said they'll review their cannabis programs and application processes in light of the news.

"We are currently carefully reviewing Natural Healing Center's permit applications, documents, and statements that involved him," SLO City Manager Derek Johnson said. "To our knowledge, he has no current interest in any permitted cannabis businesses in SLO. We will take all necessary actions once our review is complete."

Grover Beach City Manager Matt Bronson told New Times that his city administration was never alerted to the attempted bribery of former Mayor Shoals in 2017. He said the city has been cooperating with the FBI and DOJ investigation, which the DOJ called "an ongoing public corruption investigation in SLO County."

"We have no knowledge of any of the alleged activities by former Mayor Shoals and have no information regarding what's been alleged about his meeting with Mr. Dayspring," Bronson said. "That was not shared with us, not reported to us. Our focus was helping to establish a safe and responsible cannabis industry with stringent regulation and oversight." Δ

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