NILES — A Niles man charged with sexually abusing a minor is no longer part of a medical marijuana company that is building a grow facility in the city.
Michael Heskett resigned as a partner in HDS Investments last month, according to Jeff Durrell, another partner in the company. Durrell said Heskett was originally going to be the company’s grower, but the pending felony charges of soliciting prostitution from a minor, delivery of narcotics to a minor and child sexual abusive activity against Heskett made it unlikely the company would receive approval for a state license.
“We gave him a deadline to replace him because we needed a grower and so that’s what ended up happening, the date came up,” Durrell, a pawn broker in South Bend and Mishawaka, said. “He volunteered the resignation.”
On Aug. 18, a Berrien County judge ruled prosecutors presented sufficient evidence against Heskett to send the case to the county’s circuit court for a trial in February.
Heskett was arrested in April and charged with delivery of narcotics to a minor and aggravated child sexually abusive activity. Prosecutors allege Heskett gave a 16-year-old girl crack cocaine and marijuana on numerous occasions and that sexually explicit pictures of the girl taken at Heskett’s house were found on her phone.
Heskett could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Attorney Sean Drew, who is representing Heskett in his criminal case, did not return a call seeking comment.
HDS Investments, though Durrell said the name of the company will likely be changed, is near completion on the construction of a facility on the corner of Lake and 13th streets to grow medical marijuana.
HDS received preliminary approval for a Class C medical growing license from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in March 2019 — a process that requires criminal and financial background checks.
Heskett was part of HDS’ application because of his Michigan residency and the fact he held a marijuana license for two years, though those items are no longer required for companies seeking Michigan licenses, Durrell said.
Heskett’s pending felony charges also made it highly unlikely HDS would be granted a license. According to a statute in the medical marijuana application, an applicant is ineligible for a state license if they are convicted of a felony.
“If you have any pending cases at all, if you have anything going on, they’re not going to allow you to get a license,” Durrell said.
According to Durrell, Heskett invested $30,000 into the nearly $2 million project, but sold his shares to recoup his original investment. Durrell previously told The Tribune the company suspended Heskett for 30 days following his arrest.
The company is still awaiting a license qualification, which requires a building inspection, though Durrell said he’s confident the state will give its approval now that Heskett is no longer with the company.
“We were constantly in contact with the state of Michigan on what we should do and him being a $30,000 investor was pretty easy to have him step aside,” Durrell said. “It’s not like he was on the financial paperwork.”
A Class C growing license would allow HDS to grow 1,500 cannabis plants, and Durrell said the company has found a new grower.
During a preliminary exam on Heskett’s criminal charges last month, a third charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor was added against Heskett after testimony from the accuser indicated she performed sex acts in exchange for cocaine.
At the hearing, Heskett’s attorney argued there was insufficient proof the substance Heskett allegedly provided the girl was cocaine and that Heskett was not required by statute to stop her from taking explicit photos of herself.
Heskett’s trial date is scheduled for the week of Feb. 15.