By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Despite local marijuana mogul Helios Dayspring having already signed a plea deal with federal prosecutors in his bribery and tax evasion case, Dayspring’s Natural Healing Center was still pursuing a cannabis dispensary permit in Santa Barbara County less than two weeks ago.
Dayspring purchased the Old Town Market building in Orcutt and several other parcels for $1.6 million in April 2020. He then sent an eviction notice to Mark and Wendy Steller, who had run the Old Town Market for 18 years.
Amid community outrage over the impending closure of the only grocery store in Orcutt’s Old Town area, the Fidel brothers bought the Old Town Market from Dayspring in Oct. 2020, with plans to continue selling groceries while also providing a food court.
The purchase, however, came with a contingency. The Fidel brothers agreed to sell the property back to Dayspring if he were to succeed in garnering a coveted retail pot shop permit for the property, said co-owner Ibrahim Abboud.
In NHC Orcutt 405 LLC’s dispensary permit application, Dayspring was not listed as an owner of the LLC. However, the applicant’s address was the same location as Dayspring’s Natural Healing Center store in Grover Beach.
Dayspring has a long history of using limited liability companies in a scheme to underreport his income from cannabis sales. Previously, Dayspring would conceal his unreported income by purchasing real estate in employees’ names and later transfer the properties over to some of the dozens of LLCs he formed.
During the application process, NHC Orcutt 405 failed to advance to the final round, falling short by one point. Subsequently, NHC Orcutt 405 sued Santa Barbara County over its selection process.
On July 21, approximately a month after Dayspring signed his plea agreement, attorney Randy Fox of Reetz Fox & Bartlett argued in court that Santa Barbara County should have selected NHC Orcutt 405 as a finalist for the Orcutt dispensary permit, according to the Santa Barbara Independent.
Judge Colleen Sterne ruled against NHC Orcutt 405, finding the county had not acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner in its scoring of the company’s application. The county’s scoring methods included reviews of applicants’ business operations and neighborhood compatibility.
Fox said he planned on appealing Sterne’s decision, but now that Dayspring’s plea deal has been announced, he is unsure if that will happen. Fox was unaware of the plea agreement while arguing the case, he said.
As an applicant, Dayspring’s felony conviction would prohibit him from obtaining a permit for a cannabis businesses. A Santa Barbara County ordinance states a cannabis business license can be denied if an applicant has been convicted of a felony or another crime.
Dayspring signed his plea agreement on June 24. On July 28, federal prosecutors charged Dayspring with one count of bribery and one count of filing a false tax return. Dayspring agreed to plead guilty to both felony offenses, pay $3.4 million in restitution to the IRS and cooperate in the government’s ongoing corruption investigation.