A top political aide to Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller was arrested this week for allegedly running a scheme to illegally solicit money and contributions in exchange for hemp licenses that are issued by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).
According to court documents first obtained by the Texas Tribune, that aide, Todd Smith, personally received $55,000 as part of a larger scheme that amassed a total of $150,000 by essentially selling access to “guaranteed” hemp licenses. He is now facing charges of third-degree felony theft.
The Texas legislature in 2019 passed HB 1325 to legalize the production of hemp under a state-regulated system overseen by the TDA.
The alleged scheme was exposed after a man named Andre Vinson told Keenan Williams, one of Smith’s associates, that he had good connections with farmers and people in the Cannabidiol (CBD) business and was interested in getting involved in the hemp industry. Williams, who acted as a middle man between Vinson and Smith, told him he would need to provide cash up front to make that happen.
“Keenan Williams told Andre Vinson he (Williams) was working directly with senior leadership at the TDA and added there would only be 15 total hemp licenses issued in the entire state,” an affidavit provided by the Texas Ranger Public Integrity Unit stated. “Keenan Williams told Andre Vinson he (Williams) was already guaranteed one of those licenses. Keenan Williams told Andre Vinson he (Williams) needed $150,000 in cash, with some of the money going toward campaign contributions, in order to receive the ‘guaranteed’ hemp license.”
Vinson then met with Williams on multiple occasions, providing tens of thousands in cash each time.
However, Vinson later learned that Williams had not been guaranteed a license and that “anyone would be able to get a hemp license that submitted a valid application when TDA started taking applications in 2020.”
“Vinson had been under the impression from Williams that Vinson had to spend $150,000 in payments to consultants and elected officials to receive a hemp license,” the affidavit stated.
Williams later told authorities that Todd Smith had communicated to him that “getting a hemp license would take $25,000 upfront for a survey and the funding of campaigns, for a total of $150,000.”
“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.
In response to inquiries about the allegations, Commissioner Miller told the Tribune that he had “no idea” about the alleged scheme, saying it was “between [Todd] and his clients.” He also noted that hemp licenses are relatively cheap, costing $100 for a one-year license.
Smith was arrested on Thursday evening and released early Friday morning on a personal recognizance bond. His bail was set at $10,000.
Read the charging documents below.
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