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California ‘Cannabis King’ gets 22 months for bribing county supervisor

The judge said the bribery crime was too egregious to let the cannabis grower walk away with only probation given the public's already low opinion of its leaders.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A California man who the federal government claims sought to become the "cannabis king" of the counties of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara was sentenced to 22 months in prison for bribing a county supervisor.

Helios Raphael "Bobby" Dayspring, 36, pleaded guilty in 2021 to paying $32,000 in bribes to now-deceased San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, in exchange for which the supervisor voted in support of regulation that benefitted Dayspring's cannabis farms in the county. As part of his plea deal, Dayspring also agreed to pay more than $7 million to the IRS in restitution and penalties for underreported income tax.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. on Friday rejected Dayspring's bid to escape prison time, saying his crime was too egregious for a probationary sentence, in particular because many people already have a very low opinion of the government.

"This strikes at the core of our government," the judge said.

Dayspring, who owned a number of cannabis farms and marijuana dispensaries in Central California, also sought to bribe the mayor of Grover Beach to obtain two dispensary permits in exchange for $100,000, according to the government. He had one ambition, prosecutors said — to build a cannabis empire.

"His lofty ambitions drove him to bribe a San Luis Obispo County supervisor with tens of thousands in cash to advance and protect his cannabis growing operations, offer to bribe a mayor for cannabis distribution permits, and conceal over $9 million in income on his tax returns," prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said in their sentencing memorandum, seeking 27 months of incarceration.

At one county board meeting in March 2019, Hill texted Dayspring during the meeting about how hard he had to work to prevent the board from voting to ban all outdoor cannabis cultivation, according to the government, which would have hurt Dayspring's business significantly. A few days later, Hill texted Dayspring and one of Dayspring's employees, saying "tomorrow's is your favorite County Supervisor's birthday ... what are you two Cannabis Kings going to do for him???"

Dayspring's lawyers had asked for a sentence of probation rather than prison time, citing his cooperation with the investigation from the start.

"Mr. Dayspring is not some smooth, or sophisticated, operator," his lawyers said in their sentencing request. "Far from it. He was the kid who never fit in, but still stood up to bullies on behalf of others. After a lifetime of having little to nothing, he found an occupation that he was good at despite all odds, including a lack of formal education and little, if any, financial wherewithal."

Hill's death in 2020 was ruled a suicide. The information Dayspring provided to federal investigators against Hill before his death was overwhelmingly corroborated, according to his lawyers, and there was no dispute, they said, that he would have been a key witness for the government if Hill had been put on trial.

Hill, who received payments from Dayspring from late 2016 through 2019, asked Dayspring for things like rent, claiming his wife had left him and he couldn’t afford to pay his rent, and for medicinal cannabis for his sick dog, playing on Dayspring’s love of animals and especially, according to his lawyers.

In a letter to the judge, Dayspring said he had lost $30 million in assets, including land, farms and his personal home as a result of his wrongdoing.

"To have it all crash down in such a pathetic fashion is devastating to say the least," he said. "All those who dedicated their efforts and energy to help build one of the most respected cannabis companies in Central California possibly to lose it all. Everyone has to hold their head lower because of my movements that had nothing to do with them."

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

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