The Georgia Access To Medical Cannabis Commission recently awarded licenses to the first group of medical marijuana growers in state history. 

But the announcement was quickly followed by twenty one protests from companies that questioned how the proposals were scored.

While the fight over the licensure award continues, the FOX 5 I-Team takes a close look at one winning company’s ties to a  public corruption case in nearby Florida

Real estate developer JT Burnette left federal court in Florida just days before a jury convicted him on public corruption charges including extortion and fraud by bribery.

Next to him, his wife, Kim Rivers, the CEO of the medical marijuana company Trulieve Cannabis Corporation.

The Florida public corruption case began just twelve days before the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission awarded Trulieve one of Georgia’s first-ever licenses to grow medical marijuana. 

Kim Rivers was seen at her husband’s side throughout the trial.   

The key evidence in the federal case was recordings made by undercover FBI agents. The US Attorney’s office alleged JT Burnette made payments to a county official to help kill a development deal by a competitor.

The I-Team has obtained transcripts of some of those undercover tapes. In them, J.T. Burnette spoke openly about how he and his now-wife, Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, worked together to obtain one of the first medical marijuana licenses in Florida for Trulieve.

In one transcript Burnette described his now-wife to undercover FBI agents as “one of the most powerful political people out there.”  And “if you’re f***** with the wrong side of Kim Rivers, it’s like punching somebody in the f*****. . . it’s like punching a gorilla!”

“She’s ruthless as a business owner and sometimes you have to be that,” says Veterans for Cannabis CEO Joshua Littrell. 

Littrell has been a long-time advocate for medical marijuana and is now a member of a group that failed to win a license in Georgia and has filed a protest.

J.T. Burnette told undercover agents about how years ago he and his now-wife saw the value in obtaining a medical marijuana license in Florida.

“We didn’t know how to grow marijuana.”  He told the undercover FBI agent, “all we knew is, is that five licensed marijuana in Florida, f***** real valuable. We didn’t have to know anything more than that.”

“They didn’t know anything about it, but they knew they had to be a part of it,” said Littrell.

Burnette later said when Florida legislators created the new medical marijuana law he and a former Florida state legislator made “little tweaks that give you some advantage” to the marijuana legislation.  

“There is a track record. They have done it in other states, we have to make sure that it did not happen here,” said Littrell whose company failed to win a license in Georgia.

Trulieve now operates in six states. Burnette is not listed as an officer on Trulieve’s SEC filings, but on their state application, he is listed as co-owner of a construction company that Trulieve paid more than $100 million to during 2019 and most of 2020. 

“If they are using a vendor that now has a conviction for a federal crime, that should be a huge issue and should be an automatic disqualifier,” said Littrell.

Trulieve’s medical marijuana application in January, which is heavily redacted, warned of  “An ongoing investigation in Florida related to alleged corruption by local officials” but it did not mention J.T. Burnette’s corruption trial.  

Trulieve wrote us to say “The Georgia application did not mention Burnette because he is not a part of our corporation and has no role in Trulieve GA operations.”

The Georgia Cannabis Commission selected Trulieve for one of two large production licenses, right before Trulieve’s CEO’s husband was found guilty.  

“They have the ability to recall that and not issue that license based on additional information that’s come up after the application process. You know what, they should,” said Littrell.

Trulieve wrote to say “neither Trulieve nor our CEO are part of this case.  We have not commented on this trial and it would be inappropriate to do so as it does not involve Trulieve.” 

No one from the Georgia Cannabis Commission responded to our request for comments.

The commission must now decide if any of the twenty protests filed have any merit. 

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