Upland Pot Clinic Principals Indicted

Federal authorities on June 14 arrested and arraigned the owners and employees of the G3 Holistic marijuana clinic in Upland, bringing to a close operations at that facility as well as sister clinics in Colton and Moreno Valley operated by G3 along with a cultivation warehouse in Ontario.
Named in a June 6 indictment that was kept under seal until June 14 were Aaron Sandusky, John Leslie Nuckolls II, Keith Alan Sandusky, Paul Neumann Brownbridge, Richard Irwin Kirchnavy, and Brandon Anton Gustafson.
The defendants were arrested at their homes without incident on the morning of June 14 and transported to Riverside Federal Court for arraignments that same day. The indictments, arrests and arraignments came nearly seven months after the federal Drug Enforcement Agency raided the Upland Clinic in November and more than five months after the DEA again paid a visit to the clinic in January and informed the clinic’s operators they would be deemed to be in violation of federal  law if they continued to operate.
The clinic was founded by Aaron Sandusky and Nuckolls as a capitalistic venture in accordance with Proposition 215, California’s medical marijuana availability initiative which was passed by 56 percent of the state’s voters in November 1996. Sandusky and Nuckolls maintained that theirs was a legitimate business under the law and they remained defiant in the face of federal law enforcement action against them, stating that they stood ready to test the issue on Constitutional and States’ Rights grounds. They are represented by attorney Roger Diamond.
The city had sought to utilize zoning and its legislative executive authority to prevent the clinic from operating and had expended $285,000 in legal fees paid to the law firm of Richards, Watson & Gershon, which employs former Upland City Attorney Bill Curley, in a legal effort against G3 Holistic. That strategy, in and of itself, was ineffective. Despite one favorable ruling indicating the city could bring its zoning and land use authority to bear in keeping the clinic from operating at its 1710 West Foothill Blvd. Suite F-4 location, the city was thwarted when G3 Holistic lawyers filed appeals first to the appellate court and ultimately to the state Supreme Court, in the meantime keeping the clinic running.
Controversy erupted over the city’s payment of the $285,000 in fees to Richards, Watson & Gershon to carry out a legal battle in state court when medical marijuana is legal under state law. As a consequence of those billings and other unrelated high dollar billings by his law firm, Curley was forced out as city attorney earlier this year.
The presence of G3 Holistic in Upland played a part in the federal indictment of former Upland Mayor John Pomierski on extortion, bribery and conspiracy charges. According to  federal prosecutors, Pomierski and his associates attempted to shake down Aaron Sandusky for money while he was seeking to maintain his operating permit with the city.
The leading advocate of the city’s legal effort against G3 was councilman Ken Willis. In speaking with the Sentinel, Willis acknowledged, “We were spending a lot of money fighting this thing on our own. We didn’t know what to do. This was new ground for us. It started out as a conditional use permit issue and a zoning issue. Other cities had to go through the same process we went through. There was a learning curve to being confronted with marijuana shops in the middle of our community and them being aggressive was a new experience. In time it became obvious to us we were dealing with a federal law at one end of the table and at the other end of the table the [Proposition 215] initiative that dealt with pot shops.”
Willis disputed the suggestion that the money the city spent on the legal effort was squandered, even though the city’s legal effort did not achieve the sought-after goal. He said that drugs are a scourge and the city could not remain idle. Tolerating medical marijuana would have planted the city’s feet on a slippery slope, he said.
“I’m sure you have heard my arguments in favor of pushing them out of town in the past,” Willis said. “Most of the concern revolves around the problem of protecting young people. There are a lot of arguments about marijuana helping people with glaucoma but many more children can be negatively influenced by this than there are adults with glaucoma. Just about every family has a story about one of its own members and marijuana and cocaine. Eventually, the two go together.”
At some point the city realized the strategy of trying to use the state courts to drive G3 out was of questionable efficacy, Willis said.
“Our police chief and city attorney said ‘Let us see if we can find a better way,’ and whatever information we had we turned over to the feds and crossed our fingers,” Willis said. “We finally learned the Department of Justice and the DEA were concerned about the issue, but it took a fair amount of urging to get them to come look at Upland. There were some red flags there and I think the feds began to see we were resisting this onslaught of pot shops and fighting it to the degree we could. They decided there was more to accomplish in Upland than in other communities. They have now drawn a line in the sand and I think they will back that up.  I am glad the feds took some action and personally I think a vast majority of the parents of children of this community will feel relieved if this leads to the permanent closure of these facilities in our town.”
The case of Upland vs. G3, which is now before the Supreme Court, since May 4 has been handled by Richards, Watson & Gershon pro bono.
Aaron Sandusky, 41, G3’s cofounder and CEO, Nuckolls, 31, G3’s cofounder and CFO,  Keith Sandusky, 44, who was a G3 manager, and Brownbridge, 29, Kirchnay, 45 and Gustafson, 30, all of who worked at the Ontario cultivation warehouse, pleaded not guilty.

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