U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson has been charged with bribery. Photo courtesy U.S. Attorney Office/UPI
April 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. attorney's office charged former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson on Thursday in a bribery scheme involving the state's medical marijuana business.
Prosecutors accused Johnson, 70, of accepting more than $110,000 in bribes while chairing the Michigan medical marijuana licensing board, which has a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
Also charged were John Dawood Dalaly, 70, with payment of a bribe; Brian Dennis Pierce, 45, with conspiracy to commit bribery; and Vincent Tyler Brown, 32, with conspiracy to commit bribery, all felonies.
Federal prosecutors said all four are now cooperating with the investigation and have agreed to plead guilty to the offenses.
"Public corruption is a poison to any democracy," U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said in a statement. "Those who wield the power of state have a sacred obligation to serve the people they represent. But when a government official takes a bribe, they spurn that solemn duty -- in favor of the connected, the crooked, and ultimately themselves."
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer dissolved the marijuana licensing board in 2019 after voters there legalized the recreational use of the drug in 2018.
Johnson served in the Michigan House from 1999 to 2004, three of those years leading the GOP as House speaker. He then led a Lansing lobbying firm before serving as the chair of the Michigan marijuana licensing board from 2017 to 2019.
"Johnson provided valuable non-public information about the anticipated rules and operation of the [licensing board] and assistance with license application matters to Dalaly, Pierce, Brown, and others that paid money to Johnson while he was chairperson of the MMLB," prosecutors said in its statement.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said the investigation into the medical marijuana cases is ongoing.