County supervisor charged with conflict of interest for marijuana vote

Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez

Amid allegations that multiple public officials in California have financially benefited through their support of marijuana businesses, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office filed two conflict of interest charges against a county supervisor for conflicts of interest. []

Last week, prosecutors filed two misdemeanor charges against Supervisor Leticia Perez, 41, for failures to disclose and voting to promote the marijuana industry while her husband Fernando Jara worked as a consultant for Kern County marijuana interests. The charges are the first time an elected official has been criminally charged for conflicts of interest in Kern County.

On Oct. 24, 2017, Perez was the lone vote against a Kern County commercial cannabis ban. Her husband owns Savage Communications, a consulting firm that has worked to promote pro-cannabis policies.

According to prosecutors, Perez “did make, participate in making or attempt to use her official position to influence a governmental decision in which she knew or had reason to know she had a financial interest.”

The second count states Perez failed to disclose her investments, interests in real property, and income in 2016.

Allegations of bribery and conflicts of interests regarding the Kern County marijuana industry were first raised in 2017 by David Abbasi, the owner of three cannabis shops. Because he refused to “pay to play,” Abbasi said he was left out of the marijuana lottery.

Similar allegations of “pay to play” schemes have been raised about several San Luis Obispo County and Grover Beach officials.

A handful of members of SLO NORML, a local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill told members he would support their efforts on behalf of small grower if they supported him financially.

In Grover Beach, applicants have questioned the integrity of the process after city officials voted to award four marijuana dispensary licenses to a group of people who include felons, a man on the sex offender registry list and people affiliated with the League of California Cities.

Following the criminal charges against Perez, a Latino advocacy group asked the state to investigate if the charges were retaliation because of Perez’s testimony in a Kern County redistricting case.

Perez is facing six months in jail on each count of conflict of interest.

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