Marijuana shop owner David Abbasi is fighting a lonely war against some of the most powerful, influential groups in Kern County.
Supervisors, political consultants, county lawyers, county planners and opposing cannabis groups. He said they're all out to get him.
Abbasi’s claims of bribery, influence peddling and retribution have widened an existing rift on the Kern County Board of Supervisors over the regulation of marijuana. His close friendship with Supervisor Leticia Perez and her husband Fernando Jara has only intensified the conflict.
Abbasi says he has audio, video and other proof that his claims are real.
But, despite repeated requests from reporters for detailed proof, he has been reluctant to release more than a few texts and readily-available public records.
Abbasi said he is reserving that evidence for a corruption lawsuit against the county.
So the county is left to deal with the fallout from his claims.
Kern County Counsel Mark Nations said Tuesday that the county has not been able to “uncover any facts which support,” Abbasi’s claims or proof that he’s taken them to a law enforcement agency.
“Based on what I have reviewed to date, I have concluded that what is happening here is a concerted campaign to disseminate false and misleading information in an effort to sow confusion, create mistrust and disunity, undermine confidence in local government, intimidate public officials and perhaps gain some perceived advantage in pending or future litigation,” Nations told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Attorneys and officials with the city and the county say Abbasi’s businesses were shut down because they were operating illegally.
City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said all dispensaries in the city have been shut down.
Abbasi’s was closed down on Nov. 6, 2017. He said the city was trying to get rid of his shop so he couldn't compete with those backed by the Kern Citizens for Patient Rights, a cannabis advocacy group represented by attorney Phil Ganong.
But the city, in the last two weeks, closed those shops down, too.
Abbasi is convinced KCPR is doing a backroom deal with the city to remove an initiative from the upcoming November ballot that would eliminate a city ban in exchange for a city ordinance that would secure a monopoly for KCPR dispensaries.
Kern Citizens leader Heather Epps denied they would ever take the initiative off the ballot.
“No. I worked my butt off. This needs to go to a vote. The city residents have to make this decision,” she said.
And Gennaro said, even if the proponents of the initiative wanted to, they cannot take it off the ballot.
Voter signatures put it on and it will stay there.
In the County of Kern, which passed a marijuana ban on Oct. 24, 2017, only 28 dispensaries are allowed to operate through November 2018. Then the county ban will close them.
According to letters between Planning and Community Development Director Lorelei Oviatt and Abbasi, his dispensary is not one of those 28.
When his claims to have two open dispensaries in the county were checked out, it was discovered that one appeared to be closed and the other was a computer store, Oviatt said.
Abbasi and his attorney Abraham Labbad said that the county ban is illegal. The moratorium is illegal, they added. Under a lawsuit they won against the county, overturning the restrictive Measure G zoning rules, they believe the law reverted to the county’s permissive 2009 ordinance which allowed a number of shops to open across the county.
County Counsel Nations said those claims have no merit. The county is allowed, under the initiative that legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, to ban commercial marijuana.
Abbasi and Labbad said they will sue Kern County in court to overturn those unjust laws.
But Abbasi’s business troubles have fueled his anger with the county and his determination to strike back.
He believes that he was unfairly targeted while other local and statewide cannabis business groups bought protection from dispensary bans or brokered deals with local city and county officials through the use of bribes.
“All these greedy people see is dollar signs. They don't care about the lives they ruin or the families they destroyed. Justice shall prevail,” Abbasi wrote in a text to a reporter. “I could not be complicit. That's why I was taken off the list that's why I'm being blackballed and denied services. Because I did not pay to play.”
Abbasi and Labbad issued a series of formal declarations to the county over the weekend of Feb. 3-4 making a number of dramatic claims. And those come on the heels of claims Abbasi made in statements made to the board over the past three weeks.
Abbasi claims political consultants Jimmy Yee and Kim Schaefer — who represent the Highway 99 Collective and the Kern Citizens for Patient Rights respectively — have tried to bribe county officials on other matters.
He also said they’ve bribed Supervisor Mike Maggard, citing a private conversation in which he overheard Supervisor Leticia Perez making the claim as proof.
At a reporters’ request, Abbasi released texts between himself and Perez as evidence of the conversation. In the text Perez tells Abbasi she won't confirm what she might have said about Maggard, Schaefer and Yee.
Perez herself declined to comment to a reporter on the situation, citing attorney-client privilege.
Schaefer and attorney Richard Monje, who represents Yee, have called Abbasi’s claims baseless and slanderous.
Abbasi said he has proof of many of his claims, but he is holding back to use in a corruption lawsuit he plans to file against the Kern County and the principals involved.
When a reporter asked to obtain a copy of a video Abbasi said he has documenting an exchange of cash he declined.
“At this point it will be in a lawsuit and I would love to see these people lie on the stand, and possibly have some evidence to the contrary,” he wrote in a text message.
But perhaps the most shocking impact on the county from claims Abbasi has made come because of his close relationship with Supervisor Perez and her husband Jara.
That relationship has soured in past weeks as Abbasi pulled the pair into his claims against the county and accused them of being tied to out-of-county marijuana interests that are feuding with Kern Citizens for Patients Rights and the Highway 99 Collective.
And that is causing problems for Perez.
Those problems will be part of the third installment in this series which will be released on Thursday.