By John Raffel
GRAND RAPIDS – U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten announced this week that Rick Vernon Johnson, 70, of LeRoy, was sentenced to serve 55 months in federal prison and fined $50,000 for soliciting and accepting bribes in his role as the former Chairperson of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board (MMLB).
He was also ordered to forfeit an additional $110,200. Following his release from prison, Johnson will serve two years on supervised release. U.S. District Court Judge Jane Beckering imposed the sentence.
“Rick Johnson’s brazen corruption tainted an emerging industry, squandered the public’s trust, and scorned a democracy that depends on the rule of law,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten in a statement. “My office stands ready to fight public corruption whenever and wherever we find it, without fear or favor, following the evidence wherever it leads, with independence and impartiality.”
Rick Johnson served as Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives between 2001 and 2004 as member and the Chairperson of the MMLB between May 2017 and April 2019. Prior to his appointment to that Board, Johnson worked as a lobbyist in Lansing/
According to the press release, Johnson received at least $110,200 in bribes while he was MMLB Chair, including cash payments, flights to Canada on private aircraft, and commercial sex paid for by others.
Co-defendant John Dalaly, who was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison by Judge Beckering on September 14, 2023, paid Johnson $68,200 in bribes. Co-defendants Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown, who will be sentenced on October 18, 2023, paid $42,000 to or for the benefit of Johnson.
According to published reports, Johnson took several steps to conceal the bribes, such as using a second “burner” phone and laundering bribes through various limited liability companies he controlled to hide their purpose. In addition, several bribe payers referred to Johnson using the alias “Batman.”
The reports say in return for those payments, Johnson provided an unfair advantage to bribe payers in the form of his favorable vote on license applications, his help and support throughout the licensing process, and confidential inside information pertaining to the MMLB’s work and other applicants.