'Don't Give Them Your Money:' Entrepreneurs Say Groups Offering Pricey Classes On Marijuana Business Are A Scam
CHICAGO (CBS) -- Adults in Illinois can legally buy weed in less than two months, and the prospects for making a profit off pot are very high.
But so is the risk of being ripped off. Some eager entrepreneurs say they lost thousands of dollars.
CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker traveled coast to coast to find out how they got hooked.
Camillia Bowen arrived in Oak Lawn one chilly day in October on a mission.
"I came here to warn you people," she said.
She told a group of Chicagoans attending a free seminar about how to make money in the soon-to-be legal recreational marijuana business this: "Don't give them your money."
Her story began a few months ago at the Marriott Hotel in her hometown of Atlanta. She attended one of the free seminars held there, hoping to learn how to make millions growing and selling marijuana.
"Oh, they give a good speech," she said. "The speaker was very convincing, had you all excited and worked up."
Bowen is 66 years old and living on disability. She wrote a $997 check on the spot for a three-day educational class.
She was interested because of movement toward legalizing pot in her state. This year, Georgia made growing and selling limited amounts of medical marijuana legal. And lawmakers have considered a bill to extend that to recreational use.
"My interest was if it becomes legal in Georgia I wanted to know how to grow it," Bowen said.
After writing the check, she got a call from her son, who told her: "'Don't give them any money it's a scam.'"
Bowen immediately canceled the class and has the email to prove the company agreed not to cash her check. But, she said, "They cashed my check anyway."
She was so mad that she got on a plane and flew to Southern California to get her money back.
She headed to the business she made the check out to - First Investment Capital headquartered in Orange, California.
But all she found was "an empty building. Then I said okay, what is my next move going to be? Because I'm not a quitter."
That's how she ended up in Chicago. She saw a Facebook post promoting the same seminars at hotels in Oak Lawn, Naperville, and Rosemont. When she called the CBS 2 Investigators, we got a ticket. We wanted to know what happens behind closed doors, so we went undercover.
Inside, it's packed and a slick salesperson says things like: "From this point on, you start changing your life."
We heard promises of earning quick cash: "Who wants to make $30,000 in the next 30 days?"
And finally, the sell: "$997, and you get two people and all the information you need."
This is what the seminar is all about – selling the nearly $1,000 classes and pressuring the gullible to buy now.
There is some basis in fact. Pot becomes legal for anyone 21 and over January 1, 2020 in Illinois. Sales are expected to top $270 million dollars in the first year.
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If millions can be made selling weed in Illinois, it's billions across the country. That's why these seminars are sprouting up everywhere.
The salesperson reminds seminar attendees: "Every day you think about it, that money's going through your fingers."
The seminars target states that have already legalized some form of marijuana or cannabinoid products or like Illinois are about to...
So who's behind these seminars? A group called Cannabis Talk Network. Remember Bowen's check to First Investment? Its owner is Christopher Wright, who signs his paperwork as "Blue". He boasts online that he founded and runs Cannabis Talk Network. He also claims to have co-founded another group called Grow and Grow Rich Academy, which held similar seminars across the country.
CBS 2 investigators scoured Cannabis Talk Network's website and social media posts and learned from February 2019 to early November, there have been seminars every month, always twice a day, sometimes in two different cities on the same day.
The pitch we heard promised, "I'm going to get you started as a millionaire."
There have been at least 190 seminars held in 18 states, 60 cities, and towns. Before the year is over, another 24 are scheduled.
Richard Nourse and Stephanie Kelley attended a free seminar in Boston in October of 2017 put on by Grow and Grow Rich Academy. Both took the bait and invested.
Kelley had already designated a room in her house to be the growing area.
"We were supposed to get names, investors, people we should talk to," said Kelley.
She not only invested - she bought an additional $15,000 worth of equipment including lights, buds and other material.
Nourse's plan was to expand his small operation housed in his attic.
He said, "We were promised all the big stuff. We were promised a coach to have access to any time we wanted." But instead, he said "We got nothing."
Nourse sank $30,000 into his dream.
"I paid it out of my checking account. I moved the money from my retirement. I felt like an idiot for falling for this stupid scam," he said. "But here I am."
Kelley invested less. "I was out of $10,697," she said.
Kelley eventually did get several thousand dollars back after making a nuisance of herself. But, she's still out nearly $3,000. Nourse, Kelley, and Bowen want every dime back.
Remember Wright? He's the man they accuse of taking their money.
He's a former musician who calls himself a motivational speaker.
In a social media video, Wright said, "If it comes easy, it's probably too easy, OK?"
He also claims to be an expert in the marijuana industry.
In a YouTube post about his Grow and Grow Rich endeavor, he said: "I've worked with cannabis facilities, dispensaries, partnerships and collectives."
But Wright has been in the sights of several consumer agencies across 10 states recently. Consumer complaints have been filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission.
CBS 2's Tucker flew across the country to the Los Angeles area to look for Wright. When she found him leaving his office, she asked about his upset customers.
He denied running a nationwide scam and not refunding money. He said he would "absolutely" give people their money back.
When asked why he hasn't done that yet? He replied, "They don't have the right contact information."
We discovered the man who claims to be able to help people make millions selling marijuana lives in a very modest suburban community, in a 1,400 square-foot, ranch-style home. Instead of a lavish lifestyle, we found a lawsuit – a child support case showing Wright was unemployed in 2013.
But by 2016, his income had increased and he was ordered to pay $821 a month – only he didn't. By January of this year he owed $21,000 in back payments and interest.
Remember, Wright is the face of the traveling road show where crowds are investing thousands of dollars in numerous cities. So, where's the money?
While Bowen waits for her money back, her mission continues.
"Even if I don't get my money back I still want to help other people by warning them about this company," she said. Do not give them your money."
As a result of the complaints to the BBB and our phone calls, the BBB has already slapped Cannabis Talk Network with an F rating and is considering whether to issue a stronger warning about doing business with the company.
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