The Kern County District Attorney’s Office has cleared multiple county officials of bribery allegations and numerous other violations relating to the cannabis industry.
In a news release issued Friday, the DA’s Office announced that the Public Integrity Unit had found Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard, Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt, multiple county employees and one Kern County sheriff's deputy were innocent of the allegation that they had been involved in a bribery scheme in 2010.
The deputy's full name was not disclosed.
The allegations were first made public in early April by local attorney Abraham Labbad and dispensary owner David Valencia, who also goes by David Peralta, who claimed that he paid Oviatt more than $70,000 in cash to clear the way for his medical marijuana dispensary to operate.
The allegations also involved county employees Walter Baldwin, Kim Baldwin, Chuck Lackey and Al Rojas.
“Labbad and Valencia could not present any documentary or corroborating evidence to support the allegations, which were also reported to the FBI,” the DA said in the release. “No evidence of unusual financial activity was discovered during the investigation. There is no evidence to corroborate any of the accusations made by David Valencia, and the accusations are contrary to previous statements taken by Valencia in 2018, where he denied even hearing of any government official being bribed.”
The only other purported witness to the alleged bribery, an employee of the Antelope Valley Diamond Collective dispensary, could not confirm important details of the alleged event, nor any of the other officials allegedly involved, the DA added in its news release.
"While I'm grateful the DA has cleared this up once and for all, I'm disgusted with the deceitful and dishonest nature of so many involved in this industry," Maggard said in a statement. "Our community deserves better than this."
A phone call seeking comment and an email to Oviatt were not immediately returned.
The release also cleared Supervisor Zack Scrivner of “evidence tampering,” and Maggard of Brown Act violations.
The evidence tampering allegation stemmed from an incident that occurred in August 2018 when sheriff’s deputies raided four dispensaries in Rosamond.
After items had been seized from dispensaries, Scrivner and sheriff’s Cmdr. Adam Plugge participated in an interview in which they showed off some of the marijuana products that had been seized and had been put in the back of a trailer.
The interview was captured on video and shows no evidence tampering by anyone, the release says.
A call to Scrivner seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The two alleged Brown Act violations involved two meetings that took place in 2017 and 2018.
The Brown Act governs rules related to meetings of local legislative bodies and is meant to ensure the public’s right to participate and attend such meetings.
In general, the Brown Act states that meetings that involve a majority of a governing body must be open to the public and an agenda must be made available in advance.
The first allegations stated that Maggard and Bakersfield resident Chad Garcia had discussed issues related to cannabis at some point in 2017.
“Even assuming the conversation occurred as described, there is no violation of the Brown Act when a member of a legislative body speaks with someone about issues pertaining to the body,” the release said.
The second allegation involved a November 2018 meeting at the restaurant Hungry Hunter, in which Bakersfield residents who have spoken out either in opposition or support of cannabis, including David Brust, Keith Lawless, Heather Epps, Chad Garcia and Stacy Jischk, — were reportedly present.
“There is no evidence that anything discussed at the meeting was presented (to) any member of the Board of Supervisors,” the release stated. “The complete absence of any member of a legislative body is certainly not a ‘majority’ of the legislative body that is required for a meeting to be held in violation of the Brown Act.”
The DA said the investigation spanned more than two months and involved interviews of more than 20 potential witnesses.
“Despite a thorough investigation, there was absolutely no evidence revealed to support the claims made by members of the cannabis industry,” the release stated.