Randy Welty, the colorful vice czar who has cut a wide swath throughout Southern California, has emerged as the power behind what is slated to be the City of San Bernardino’s first licensed marijuana clinic.
The precise extent of Welty’s reach is difficult to ascertain. This is largely by design. His holdings are in many cases not directly held, but rather under the control of his accountant, shadow companies, entities or individuals in which someone other than Welty is, or appears to be, the principal or operator, or chief executive or owner or chief agent. Reliable information, nonetheless, indicates Welty is the actual principal or owner of scores of enterprises in a sizeable empire. Welty owns, or principally owns, at least six adult live entertainment venues – that is, topless or topless/bottomless/ fully nude or partially nude theaters or bars. One report, unverified, is that he actually owns eleven such enterprises. He owns another seven adult bookstores. As of early 2016, he had an interest in 56 medical marijuana dispensaries.
How much of Welty’s legend is fact, or based on fact, and how much is hyperbole is a subject of debate. This inexactitude with regard to Welty is a part of his approach to life and business. Even his name, his very identity, is less than exact. Though his actual name is Waldon Randall Welty, he does not go by Waldon but rather by Randy. What is more, he has a son also called Randy. Both have had run-ins with the law. The younger Welty appears to have been involved in some of his father’s business ventures, leading to further confusion.
There is no doubt, however, that Welty is a larger-than-life figure, a Vietnam War veteran and successful entrepreneur, a First Amendment advocate and provocateur, a self-admitted and unabashed smut peddler and fleshmonger, described by his friends, rivals and foes alike as a genius, who has long recognized and taken advantage of the opportunities local governments present by their predictability, complacency, indolence, corrupt nature and self-centeredness. He is condemned by some as a mobster, an operator of illicit enterprises, the kingpin of an underworld organization with tentacles reaching to scores of cities throughout California.
As the owner of adult entertainment venues, Welty has made money both directly and indirectly. One of the remarkable things about Welty is he has a legion of admirers or, to put it another way, qualified admirers. Some who admit they admire him say they don’t really like him. But they acknowledge, nonetheless, that he is a formidable entrepreneur, one with virtually unerring instincts on how to make a buck and a facile mind that allows him to come out on top, even when his business ambition is thwarted. Part of Welty’s formula, it has been alleged, is to acquire, by taking over or buying, what is a marginal or maybe even failing night spot – either a bar, pool hall, night club, comedy club or sports bar. Welty will initially, sources say, try, or at least appear to try, to have the night spot make a go of it. At some point, he will, perhaps with or perhaps without local government approval, transition the business into one with a sexual theme – usually one featuring some order of nude female dancing. He will keep the business operating at what ostensibly is a profit. When the city or county moves to shutter the business, Welty will then embroil the government in costly litigation pertaining to contractual, First Amendment and zoning issues, almost invariably prevailing and achieving a settlement which more often than not includes the city paying Welty handsomely – typically in excess of $1 million – for lost profits.
An indispensable element of Welty’s success consists of the friendship/professional alliance he has with his lawyer, famed civil rights attorney Roger Jon Diamond. Diamond has no hesitation whatsoever to take on, indeed seems to thrive on, cutting edge freedom of speech and freedom of expression issues where public and social sensibility is being tested. Time after time, public entities, led by elected officials seeking to hold the line on what they consider to be issues of common decency and social conservatism, and encouraged by a vocal element of their constituencies, overstep their authority in preventing Diamond’s clients from engaging in constitutionally protected activity, whereupon Diamond will give the lawyers representing the government a sound drubbing at the trial court or appellate court levels.
As a result, Welty cuts an imposing and intimidating profile. He can be impressively articulate, having made moving, impassioned and eloquent speeches before public bodies. Originally from Texas, he is a respected and successful racehorse owner and breeder, the owner of Hidden Meadow Farm and a part owner of Emerald Greens Horse Training in Riverside. His mounts have included Paying Dues, Reckless Warrant, Proper Motion, Jet Set Swinger, Rock Opera, Hussie Home and Simple Truth.
Welty has also cultivated, it seems, an image of being slightly mentally unhinged, indeed dangerous, right over the red line into being prone to violence. On one occasion, in what was apparently an argumentative mood, he came before the Upland City Council wearing a T-shirt which read “You say tomato. I say fuck you.” In 2008 at his Santa Barbara estate, which includes his 13,333-square-foot mansion and 2,500-square feet of horse stables, when Welty began to lose an argument he was having with his wife on debating points, he attempted to even the score by taking a baseball bat to her. He was arrested and charged with felony assault. His lawyer was able to have the charges whittled down, and Welty pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated trespassing.
In Upland, Welty is the de facto, though not the official, owner of the Tropical Lei strip club, which stands at the far west end of the City of Gracious Living on Foothill Boulevard, just east of the Claremont/Upland border, the gateway into San Bernardino County from Los Angeles County. A generation ago, Welty withstood the City of Upland’s effort to shut the Tropical Lei down. A half dozen years ago, a medical marijuana dispensary set up operations on property controlled by Welty adjacent to the Tropical Lei. The City of Upland had a strict ban on medical marijuana clinics within its city limits. Beginning in 2007, the city had waged a protracted legal battle with one of Welty’s competitors, another determined dispensary operator, Aaron Sandusky, who on three occasions succeeded in standing the city off in state court over its efforts to shut down his operation, G3 Holistics. Ultimately, however, Upland officials coordinated with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Sandusky, taking him to trial and getting a conviction in Federal Court in October 2012. In 2013, Sandusky was given a ten-year sentence in federal prison. He remains incarcerated in a federal facility in Texas. Having made an example of Sandusky, the City of Upland stepped up its enforcement against cannabis clinics operating in the city. Simultaneously, Upland voters have twice voted through the initiative process to prohibit the sale of marijuana in the city. Over 15 marijuana clinics have been shut down through a coordinated effort involving the police department, the municipal code enforcement division and the city attorney’s office. Yet through it all, the city has maintained a hands-off posture with regard to Welty’s operation next to the Tropical Lei.
In 2014, Welty bankrolled an effort by the California Cannabis Coalition to qualify a ballot measure to permit three medical marijuana clinics to operate in Upland. Ultimately, the coalition, in the names of Upland residents Nicole DeLaRosa and James Velez, qualified that initiative to go before the voters. The measure called for the those dispensaries to operate legally in the relatively confined zoning district along a limited stretch on the north side of Route 66 – Foothill Boulevard – and south of Cable Airport, east of Monte Vista Avenue and west of Airport Drive, precisely where the Tropical Lei is located. Before the voters in Upland soundly defeated that measure, Welty on more than one occasion came before the Upland City Council, advocating on behalf of the initiative, alternatively pleading with and then demanding that the council dispense with the citywide vote and simply pass the measure using its own authority. In doing so, he brazenly inveighed against “the black market” in the marijuana trade, propounding the measure would eradicate that black market in Upland. He conveniently omitted that he was one of the operators in that black market.
Part of the way across the county, last year three measures pertaining to permitting marijuana clinics to operate in the City of San Bernardino were qualified for the ballot. As in Upland, the political establishment in San Bernardino was conceptually opposed to allowing marijuana to be commercially available within the city. But after two separate initiatives – measures N and O, the latter sponsored by Welty – were qualified for the ballot through the initiative petition process, city officials, seeing the writing on the wall, put together their own clinic-permitting initiative, Measure P, that was more restrictive than the others. N and O passed by 51.1 percent and 55.12 percent, respectively, while Measure P fell short, with 48.45 percent support. Based on its greater number of votes, Measure O was deemed the binding law with regard to marijuana sales regulations in San Bernardino.
In the aftermath of Measure O’s passage, city officials said they would move expeditiously to actuate it, but then delayed, saying they needed time to redraft elements of the city code to make it compatible with Measure O. That had not been completed when in February the city was hit with two lawsuits challenging Measure O’s provisions legally and procedurally. One of those lawsuits originated with a group that had sponsored the competing dispensary permitting initiative, Measure N. City Attorney Gary Saenz, citing that litigation, suspended the full implementation of Measure O.
Four months after the passage of Measure O, the city had not yet put any of the elements of the protocol for the marijuana dispensary permitting process provided for in Measure O into place. The following day, on March 9, Diamond, on behalf of Welty, filed suit against the city. Three months passed before the city’s community development department provided applications for dispensary operations to interested parties. On August 24, the city issued a permit for its first legal marijuana dispensary operation to an entity functioning out of the address at 100 W. Hospitality Lane. 100 W. Hospitality Lane is the address of the Flesh Showgirls club. The de facto owner of Flesh Showgirls is Randy Welty.
As is typical of so many of Welty’s operations, the permit for the dispensary is not in Welty’s name but rather in that of Quiang Ye, who has been identified as the general manager of Flesh Showgirls.
This was not the first time the City of San Bernardino found itself legally challenged by Welty. Welty had previously, in defiance of the City of San Bernardino’s city code and zoning restrictions, opened a previous incarnation of Flesh Showgirls, called the Flesh Club. The city moved to close the enterprise, whereupon Welty brought in Diamond to bloody the city’s, and then-city attorney James Penman’s, noses. The Flesh Club remained shuttered for four years while Welty pursued a $2.6 million suit challenging the city code and the specific ordinance cited in the Flesh Club’s closure. Welty obtained a court order calling for the city to allow the club to reopen along with a $1.4 million judgment to recover lost income suffered during the closure.
At present, attorney James DeAguilera, the one-time city manager of Adelanto, is representing one set of plaintiffs alleging Measure O is flawed. Though DeAguilera is pursuing the case, it is San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Saenz’ judgment that the city has more to fear from Diamond and Welty than from DeAguilera and his clients.