Cannabis clashes in Tepusquet provide snapshot of industry issues

Cannabis grower Helios Dayspring and Tepusquet Canyon residents, who opposed his area operation, look at Santa Barbara County 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who asked Dayspring a question during public comment in December 2017. County supervisors were considering how to respond to state cannabis licensing information requests during a hearing in Santa Maria.

The owner of a Central Coast cannabis dispensary pleaded guilty on Friday to federal charges related to an investigation into tax evasion and bribery of a former San Luis Obispo County supervisor in exchange for votes favoring his business.

Helios "Bobby" Dayspring, 35, appeared via Zoom before Judge Andre Birotte Jr. in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to enter guilty pleas to one count of federal program bribery and one count of tax evasion for failing to pay millions of dollars in taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a plea agreement filed Oct. 14.

He was charged on July 28 and initially agreed to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a deal with prosecutors. 

Dayspring appeared with his attorneys, Sandra Brown-Bodner and Eric Chevin. He now faces 13 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine. 

Dayspring is listed as the owner of a cannabis cultivation and distribution operation with a controlling interest in a Natural Healing Center dispensary in Grover Beach, according to the Oct. 14 plea agreement.

The federal program bribery charge involved Adam Hill, the late 3rd District County Supervisor, and concerned an illegal transaction between an official with a jurisdiction that receives more than $10,000 in federal assistance. 

Between the fall of 2016 until about November 2019, Dayspring paid Hill approximately $29,000 in unreported cash payments, free restaurant meals and cannabis products with the intention of voting favorably for Dayspring’s business and providing him with non-public information, according to court records.

Hill texted Dayspring on April 6, 2019, more than a week after Hill said he prevented a fellow supervisor from pushing a law banning all outdoor cannabis cultivation in the county.

“Your industry should give me one giant French kiss wrapped in money after my work today,” Hill said, according to court records. "Whereʼs the industry [financial] support for my reelection??”

Dayspring reportedly responded: “We are the industry” and “we're all [you] need lol," according to the plea agreement. 

Then in June 2019, Dayspring allegedly hosted a political fundraiser for Hill, at Hill’s request, at Dayspring’s home, where they raised $13,000.

Hill died on Aug. 6, 2020, and his death was widely reported a suicide in October 2020.

Additionally, Dayspring is accused of attempting to bribe a Grover Beach mayor in 2017 by offering him $100,000 in exchange for two dispensary permits in the city, although the mayor did not take the bribe, according to the plea agreement.

Grover Beach City Manager Matthew Bronson on Friday confirmed that an internal investigation concluded by officials two weeks ago found "no impropriety" by the dispensary since opening there in 2018 and that Dayspring has divested ownership in the business.

In addition, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS said Dayspring failed to report income and pay taxes for five years. 

Between 2014 and 2018, officials said Dayspring falsely reported his income, resulting in a total of $3,438,793 in unpaid taxes, which he has agreed to repay, according to the plea agreement.

Dayspring is scheduled to reappear for a sentencing hearing in Los Angeles federal court on Feb. 11.

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