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Missouri medical marijuana program hit with subpoenas from feds

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JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri marijuana regulators received two federal grand jury subpoenas last fall, almost a year after authorities issued an initial demand for records from the state.

The first demand for records, issued in November 2019, directs the Department of Health and Senior Services to provide “any and all records pertaining to medical marijuana applications” for four individuals. Their names are redacted from the document.

The second subpoena, dated Sept. 9, 2020, requires marijuana regulators to provide records, but what the records pertain to is redacted from the document.

“Pursuant to an official criminal investigation being conducted by the federal grand jury for the Western District of Missouri, your office has received a subpoena requiring the production of certain records,” said Michael S. Oliver, assistant U.S. Attorney, in a Sept. 9, 2020, letter to the DHSS.

A third subpoena, dated Sept. 11, 2020, demands more records from the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation, according to documents obtained through an open records request. Information on those records is also redacted.

All three subpoenas were issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

The feds have not identified any targets.

Bridget Patton, spokeswoman for the FBI, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri, would not comment.

Another federal subpoena, this time from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, was delivered to the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation in July.

The DHSS redacted from a copy of the subpoena what kinds of records the federal authorities were seeking.

The DEA subpoena was served by Special Agent Bryson Wheeler, the same agent mentioned in a civil asset forfeiture case involving the seizure of $166,000 generated from medical marijuana sales in Missouri.

Missourians legalized medical marijuana in 2018, but the drug remains illegal at the federal level.

Scrutiny follows Missouri’s rollout in 2019 and 2020 of its medical marijuana program, which drew more than 2,000 business applications for a program that limited licenses.

The state hired Wise Health Solutions to score applications, a process jilted applicants said was fraught with problems. The company was hit with a $28 million judgment over the summer stemming from a lawsuit brought by one of the losing companies.

Many of the industry’s most-connected players were among the biggest winners when the state ultimately issued licenses.

The state had until Jan. 7, 2020, to respond to the November 2019 subpoena, which was first reported on by the Kansas City Star.

The Star reported in March 2020 that in subsequent weeks, FBI agents interviewed lobbyists, lawmakers and Capitol staff, focusing on former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley, a lobbyist for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association and a close ally of Gov. Mike Parson.

In addition to the medical marijuana program, authorities asked members of the Independence City Council about a utility contract in Independence won by a company a Tilley associate owned, the Star reported.

The director of the state’s medical marijuana program, Lyndall Fraker, said in an October 2020 deposition that a federal subpoena the department received was focused on a “situation” playing out in Independence, Missouri.

“I just knew there had been a subpoena issued, but it was not directed to us,” Fraker said. “They were just needing information from us for a situation that had come up over there.”

The first September 2020 subpoena directed the state to send the records to Special Agent Chad John, who is listed online as an adjunct member of the accounting faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

With the FBI, John investigates “primarily complex financial crimes and public corruption matters,” according to his MU biography.

He no longer works for the FBI, according to his LinkedIn profile. John stopped working for the agency’s Jefferson City office in July 2021 and is now a senior financial investigator at Chenega Worldwide Support LLC.

Editor’s note: Updated at 6:50 p.m. to reflect the existence of yet another subpoena.(tncms-asset)0fd9f0aa-3684-11ec-b7e8-00163ec2aa77[0](/tncms-asset)

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