Losing marijuana bidder files ethics complaint against Travis Story | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 9, 2018

Losing marijuana bidder files ethics complaint against Travis Story

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 6:48 PM

click to enlarge OLLY NEAL: Files complaint on marijuana permit review.
  • OLLY NEAL: Files complaint on marijuana permit review.
Olly Neal of Marianna, a retired judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, has filed a complaint with the Arkansas Ethics Commission over Medical Marijuana Commissioner Travis Story's scoring a cultivation permit application by a company owned by people who have been Story's legal clients.

We've written before about standard legal business Story, a Fayetteville lawyer, has done for the Trulove family of Berryville, owners of the Osage Creeek Cultivation company that finished in the top five of more than 80 applicants for one of five cultivation permits.

Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger, a law partner with Story, confirmed in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette interview that he and Story had worked for the Truloves and were aware of their plans to seek a marijuana permit and said they could not work for them in that business on account of Story's position.

It's unknown if the redacted application of Osage Creek that Story graded clearly identified Trulove as the applicant. But it identified Berryville as the location, at a mimimum. Story has not been taking calls and Ballinger hasn't responded to my questions.

Neal was identified in a September Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article as one of the owners of Delta Cannibanoid, which finished 10th in the scoring. This was effectively ninth because one company filed for permits in two locations and each group could win only one permit.

His multi-page complaint, linked here in full, says commissioners are covered by state law on conflict of interest and that Story had a direct or indirect interest in the application of Osage Creek.

The complaint notes Osage Creek's high score by Story — 94.5 on a 100-point scale, which tied for second highest among his scores where it ranked no higher than sixth among other commissioners.

The complaint noted, as we have, that Story was listed as the incorporator/organizer on two businesses operated by Jay and Mary Trulove, the owners of Osage Creek, and he and Ballinger were listed as an attorney for them in a land dispute in Benton County.

It noted Ballinger incorporated a Trulove rental business two weeks before the marijuana application period opened. It quotes Ballinger's remarks to the Democrat-Gazette. It also noted other political ties: the Trulovescontributed $1,000 to Ballinger's campaign for Senate; Chase Dugger lobbied for Osage Creek and also made contributions to Ballinger's campaign in form of payment to the Trulove's Sports Corner. Business resumes given the Marijuana Commission listed the Sports Corner and entities that Story organized as part of their business experience, Neal's complaint says

The complaint asks for an investigation into whether Story violated ethics laws. A violation can be subject to discipline or removal.

The Ethics Commission doesn't confirm filings of such complaints. This begins a review process that generally takes weeks to complete. But it also places pressure on a commission under a variety of criticism from unhappy applicants. Dustin McDaniel, a member of a winning group, has said the pressure was so great that the commission came close Monday to voting to approve eight permits rather than five, a limit allowed by state law but not by rules the commission adopted.

I've been unable to find evidence that a lawsuit has been filed over the process, a prospect widely rumored.

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