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Lobbyist gets 2 years in prison for Michigan marijuana bribery scheme

CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for Oct. 18, 2023
CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for Oct. 18, 2023 04:17

A lobbyist responsible for $42,000 in bribes given to the head of a Michigan marijuana licensing board was sentenced Wednesday to two years in federal prison.

Brian Pierce cooperated with investigators in bagging the big target, Rick Johnson, who was formerly known as a powerful Republican lawmaker before leading the marijuana board in 2017-19.

The board reviewed and approved applications to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes. Johnson was recently sentenced to more than four years in prison for accepting $110,000 when he was in charge.

Pierce, a lobbyist and consultant for politicians and the marijuana industry, was greedy and in a "dark place" when he conspired to bribe Johnson, defense attorney Ben Gonek said in a court filing.

Prosecutors said Pierce's corruption included paying a Detroit stripper $2,000 to have sex with Johnson.

"Pierce's bribes corrupted the process for the state's issuance of licenses for businesses to operate in a new and lucrative industry," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher O'Connor said in a court filing.

Pierce's partner, Vincent Brown, also faces sentencing on Wednesday.

Michigan voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2008. A decade later, voters approved the recreational use of marijuana.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer abolished the medical marijuana board a few months after taking office in 2019 and put oversight of the industry inside a state agency.

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