A man formerly known as a powerful Michigan lawmaker was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in federal prison for accepting bribes as head of a marijuana licensing board.
Rick Johnson admitted accepting at least $110,000 when he led the board from 2017 to 2019.
“I am a corrupt politician,” Johnson told the judge, according to The Detroit News.
Johnson was a powerful Republican lawmaker years ago, serving as House speaker from 2001 through 2004. He then became a lobbyist, and ultimately chair of a board that reviewed and approved applications to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes.
Former Chair Of Marijuana Board, Rick Johnson, Sentenced To 55 Months In Federal Prison For Bribery
Johnson Obtained More Than $110,000 In Bribe Payments; U.S. Attorney Mark Totten Affirms Commitment to Fight Public Corruption
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten today announced that Rick Vernon Johnson, 70, of LeRoy, Michigan, 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). Johnson 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. “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 was a 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, Michigan, and served as Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives between 2001 and 2004.
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.
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.”
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.
The remaining defendants, Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown, will be sentenced for conspiracy to commit bribery on Wednesday, October 18, 2023, at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., respectively, in Grand Rapids. Judge Beckering will also impose those sentences.
“Public corruption is the top criminal investigative priority for the FBI,” said Cheyvoryea Gibson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan. “I am thankful for the outstanding FBI personnel for their daily commitment to following the facts, not politics, wherever they lead, particularly in this case. The FBI continues to urge concerned citizens to report public corruption information they believe they may have by calling FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or submitting tips online at tips.fbi.gov.”
Assistant United States Attorneys Chris O’Connor and Clay Stiffler are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.
MEDIA NOTE: U.S. Attorney Totten’s remarks following today’s sentencing can be viewed on the U.S. Attorney’s Facebook Page at streamed live @usao.wdmi on the U.S. Attorney’s Facebook Page.
Previous press releases concerning this case can be viewed by visiting the below links.
- Oakland County Businessman Sentenced to 28 Months in Federal Prison for Paying Bribes to Rick Johnson
- Four Charged in State Bribery Scheme
- Rick Johnson, former Chairperson of the Michigan Medical Licensing Board, and three others have agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in ongoing investigation