Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sacramento Grand jury grills Isleton leaders about pot farm
Published Thursday, Apr. 28, 2011

Wednesday must have been a bad day to get any city business done in Isleton.

The entire city government spent the day cooling their heels in a Sacramento Superior Court hallway waiting to be called before a county grand jury probing last year's approval of a massive medical marijuana farm in the Delta community.

Most said they had done nothing wrong and would invoke the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer questions in the probe, which includes allegations of kickbacks and payoffs to officials in exchange for approval of the farm.

They were not in a very pleasant mood.

"My idea is that we should all dress up as witches and go testify, because that's what this is," City Manager Bruce Pope said as he stood with his fellow Isletonians in the courthouse lobby.

"It's unprecedented," Police Chief Rick Sullivan fumed. "They've got the whole city of Isleton here.

"Why didn't they wake people up in their beds and make them all come down?"

The grand jury is expected to seek testimony through at least the end of the week, although what precisely is being asked is unclear because witnesses were told not to reveal anything about the proceedings.

"They admonished me that I can't discuss anything with anybody other than my attorney," said former Mayor Jim Corsaut, who was on the council when the project was approved and appeared for several hours before the panel.

The venture by Delta Allied Growers is being constructed in a failed housing development on the north end of Isleton, an 800-resident hamlet along the Sacramento River that saw the plan as a financial godsend.

Businessman Michael Brubeck, nephew of jazz great Dave Brubeck, is fronting the plan and promised to provide Isleton a minimum of $25,000 a month – and as much as $60,000 a month – in proceeds from the nonprofit medical marijuana farm.

Isleton officials dreamed of being able to expand their one-man Police Department and provide new services that had been unthinkable for a city that has suffered financially for years.

Then District Attorney Jan Scully and the grand jury entered the picture with what appears to be a political corruption probe and an attempt to stop the installation of the pot farm.

The fight has attracted some of the region's best-known lawyers to Isleton's side, including Clyde Blackmon and Christopher Lee. Another prominent legal name, William Portanova, is representing Brubeck.

"The District Attorney's Office has given us a subpoena and we're happy to respond to it in our own legal way," Portanova said. "The intent of this business is to be in full compliance with all laws."

Brubeck, who associates say formerly worked in the mortgage industry, has marketed himself as a consultant for medical marijuana dispensaries.

One business relationship ran into conflict last year, and Brubeck filed a breach of contract suit against the founders of Sacramento's El Camino Wellness Center dispensary. He claimed in the suit that he was owed up to a "20 percent interest in the profits of the company" for 10 hours a week of consulting help to set up the business.

The dispensary founders, Nicolas Street and Sonny Kumar, countersued, alleging that Brubeck had performed little of the work he promised and falsely represented to them that the dispensary could legally operate as a for-profit concern.

California law requires marijuana outlets to organize as nonprofit groups of medical marijuana users.

Street and Kumar said in the countersuit that they severed the consulting relationship after paying Brubeck a total of $28,900 in 2008 and 2009.

They charged that he provided advice that was "largely false, illegal and fraudulent" and that a contract asserting that Brubeck was due "an interest in the profits" was illegal because it would have required the dispensary "to perform a crime" by "profiting from the illegal sale of cannabis."

That case is pending and not related to the probe in Isleton, where officials say they have broken no laws and took no payoffs.

Scully's office has declined to discuss the nature of the probe.

"I'm just not sure where this is going," said Sullivan, the police chief who has 25 years of experience with the California Highway Patrol. "That's what makes it so disheartening. I guess I'm used to being on the other side and always being cooperative and helpful."

Sullivan said the town was being patrolled Wednesday by a reserve officer he was able to hire last Friday using federal grant money. He added that he planned to answer questions before the panel because "I don't have anything to hide."

"I need to maintain my credibility as chief of police and as a police officer," he added. "If anything, I will reiterate to the grand jury that the people who take the Fifth did so because they feel intimidated and scared."

Lee said that as he met with four of his clients at City Hall Tuesday night, the DA investigator who served them all with subpoenas sat in a car outside the building and refused three requests to leave, further intimidating his clients.

"What kind of Mafia wiseguy stuff is this?" Lee asked.

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