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HempLicenseGate

The headline on this Trib story is “Top political aide to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller arrested in alleged scheme to take money in exchange for hemp licenses”, and I have no idea how to make it any pithier than that.

The top political consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was arrested Thursday on allegations that he participated in a scheme to solicit money and campaign contributions for state hemp licenses issued by Miller’s Texas Department of Agriculture.

The consultant, Todd Smith, ultimately took $55,000 as part of the scheme, an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by The Texas Tribune says. Smith and others involved in the scheme are alleged in the warrant to have solicited a total of $150,000 to guarantee a license, including a $25,000 upfront cost for a survey that they said was required to get a license in Texas. Some of the money would also go toward funding unnamed political campaigns, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit alleges that Smith committed third-degree felony theft.

“Todd Smith created by words and his conduct, a false impression of fact that affected the judgment of others in the transactions to obtain a hemp license and/or conduct a survey that was never attempted by Todd Smith,” the affidavit says.

The allegations were investigated by the Texas Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit, which is responsible for looking into claims of public corruption.

[…]

The affidavit says Smith used another person as a middle man between himself and those interested in getting licenses. The affidavit does not provide much information about the middle man other than that he was “introduced to Todd Smith by a friend in August 2019.”

The affidavit includes the account of one man who wanted to get involved in the hemp industry and met the middle man at a social gathering in August 2019. The affidavit says the middle man told the license-seeker that he was “working directly with senior leadership at the TDA” and that he “needed $150,000.00 in cash, with some of the money going toward campaign contributions, in order to receive the ‘guaranteed’ hemp license.”

The license-seeking man agreed to the deal, setting off a chain of events that included a November 2019 visit to Austin where he handed the middle man $30,000 cash in a car outside El Mercado, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin near the TDA offices, according to the affidavit. Williams went through an alley to take the money to the TDA headquarters before returning to the car and collecting Vinson for a scheduled meeting at the offices.

The affidavit says the license-seeker learned later that month that he was not guaranteed a license, despite the scheme that had been proposed to him. He reached Smith via phone, who “denied any knowledge but did admit to receiving a $5,000.00 gift from” the middle man, according to the allegations.

You can see the affidavit here. As the story notes, these hemp licenses were created in the 2019 Legislature for the purpose of allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp, which had been illegal under prior marijuana laws. HB 1325 from last session modified the legal definition of marijuana as part of the solution for that, and in the process made it harder for prosecutors to pursue low-level marijuana possession cases. None of that has anything to do with this case, which appears to be your basic “greedy dude with access to power attempts to cash in” story, at least on the surface. Good luck to the famously articulate Sid Miller explaining that to the voters.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Despite the “we can grow hemp to make ropes for ships like we used to before marijuana was criminalized” promotion, the real money in growing hemp is to use as the raw material for CBD oil and products. It’s a risky business, though. As we see, there’s licensing hurdles, then there’s the seed cost, thousands of dollars for just an acre. Then, you take the usual and customary risks of farming to grow your hemp crop, then when it’s harvest time, it has to be extensively tested to ensure it’s THC content is low enough not to run afoul of the law. If it’s too ‘hot,’ you have to destroy it, and you just lost your whole investment. If it’s too weak in cannibanol (sp?), it’s no good for CBD and you just lost your whole investment, unless you can maybe sell it to a rope maker, I guess. And you’re out all that money for testing to tell you you just wasted your money.

  2. Kibitzer says:

    WHAT, TODD SMITH DID THAT !?

    Re: “The consultant, Todd Smith, ultimately took $55,000 as part of the scheme, an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by The Texas Tribune says.”

    It would arguably be better practice for the media to *not* identify criminal suspects by name, but in this case, probable cause *was* found, so it’s already public record because the arrest warrant was approved by a magistrate.

    And if one media organization had higher standards than others in regard to “naming and shaming” accused-but-not-convicted persons, they would be at a competitive disadvantage on the scoop/clickbait front.

    That reality of the contemporary news biz acknowledged, the online press should at least provide the *complete* name of the suspect.

    WHICH TODD SMITH DID THAT ?

    Smith is very common name, Todd is not that rare either. There are three Texas attorneys whose profiles come up for FN=Todd, LN=Smith on an SBOT attorney search and there is another one — a prominent appellate practitioner — who uses a first name initial and ‘Todd’ as a spelled-out middle name. (In addition, there are surely numerous other Texans who are not lawyers.)

    SOURCING CORRUPTION NEWS

    Thumbs up for Kuff and Trib. for including the link to the arrest warrant/probable cause affidavit. That source document is not only worth reading to get an idea of how public integrity cases are investigated, and what evidence is marshalled and detailed to show probable cause when found, it also fully identifies the suspect’s name:

    TODD MALCOLM SMITH

    Respectable media organizations should include the middle name — upon first mention at least — to reduce the chances that attorneys with same given name and surname name have their respective reputations tainted by accidental association.

    There are surely many more people with the name Todd Smith, but Texas attorneys are particularly at risk here for mistaken identity — and undesirable reputational impact — in a public corruption case involving a state agency.

    Everyone knows that there are lots of lawyers in and around government.

    WHAT EXACTLY DID SID MILLER DO ?

    And while we are on journalistic/media standards and crime-related associations, why is Sid Miller in the headline when the conduct at issue is that of a lobbyist, and the allegation is (primarily) of that certain Todd M. Smith having taken money and *not* provided/procured the service for which the money was taken from “clients”?

    Note that the *charged* offense here is *theft* (3rd degree felony, based on the amount at issue), not bribery, or wire-fraud, or tax evasion, or failure to comply with regulations governing lobbying (though there might be something there also).

    Is there any indication that Sid Miller was involved in the scheme (alleged to have taken place between Aug. 2019 – Nov. 2019) or that it happened on his watch while Smith was occupying public office? If there is, the information should be substantiated; — from a source other than the arrest affidavit, which is silent on Sid Miller’s involvement, if any. And what exactly is the timeline on “top aide” status? Does it overlap with the alleged conduct that forms the basis for the charged offense?

    To engage in innuendo and to imply guilt-by-association via headlines may be acceptable for partisan speech (and understandable, when the target as a hated political opponent), but for quality journalism?

    We should collectively expect better.