NEWS BRIEF

Bribery trial: Husband of Trulieve CEO bragged about medical cannabis pull

The now-husband of Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers boasted about how a political connection helped the company obtain one of the first vertically integrated licenses to sell medical cannabis in Florida, according to a 2016 conversation with undercover FBI agents.

The secret recording was played Tuesday at the criminal trial of J.T. Burnette, who is charged with racketeering, extortion, fraud and making false statements, The Capitolist digital news outlet reported.

Burnette says he is innocent.

At the time of the 2016 conversation with the undercover agents, Burnette was Rivers’ boyfriend.

During the recorded conversation, Burnette talked about working with then-state Rep. Halsey Beshears in 2014 to put “little tweaks” into the MMJ licensing criteria that would prevent certain competitors from qualifying.

“Well, Halsey and I worked through it,” Burnette told the agents, according to The Capitolist. “I mean, it was one afternoon.”

Trulieve won one of the first five licenses, and today the company has 87 dispensaries in Florida and controls half the smokable marijuana market, according to state data.

The Florida-based multistate marijuana operator also is in the process of acquiring Arizona-based Harvest Health & Recreation in a deal initially valued at $2.1 billion.

Burnette was recorded as saying that neither he nor Rivers knew much about the medical cannabis business at the time, but they knew a license would be lucrative.

Trulieve didn’t immediately respond to an MJBizDaily request for comment.

During cross-examination, Burnette downplayed the significance of the 2016 conversation, saying he believed the FBI agents were real estate investors and would want to hear some boasting.

“The reality is I was kind of bragging about something that happened before my time,” Burnette said, The Capitolist reported.

Halsey Beshears’ brother, Thad, is a co-founder of Trulieve and sits on the company’s board.

Burnette testified that he and the Beshears siblings grew up in the same area and were good friends.

In addition to Burnette’s trial, Halsey Beshears also has been caught up in the federal investigation of Florida congressman Matt Gaetz.

The New York Times earlier this year reported that Halsey Beshears was on a party plane with Gaetz to the Bahamas that has become a focal point of an investigation into possible sex trafficking and a marijuana pay-to-play scheme.

In its audited annual financial report in March, Trulieve disclosed that it made property and equipment purchases totaling $96.7 million in 2020 from a company with Burnette as minority owner.

– Jeff Smith

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