Thursday, October 17, 2019
On a frigid February night this year, on an Ohio Interstate, a U-Haul truck with Arizona plates — with an estimated $165,000 worth of CBD oil — was stopped by Ohio Highway Patrol troopers.
The troopers initiated a probable cause search and found 7,040 liquid ounces.
The two men in the van were arrested. The driver and his passenger were Rhode Islanders — Joshua Sellers and Richard Defedele — both 37.
The two are officers in a Rhode Island licensed hemp company — American Standard Hemp — whose “key officers” include some of the most influential and powerful players in the Rhode Island State House.
The “key players” in the ownership of the company are a mix — a top staffer to the Speaker of the House and two influential lobbyist.
Besides Sellers and DeFedele, key players in the company include:
* Grant Pilkington, a top staffer to Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello. According to state records, Pilkington earns more than $88,000 a year at the State House.
* Matt Jerzyk, former top Mattiello aide, and now a State House Lobbyist. He also serves at City Solicitor in Central Falls. According to reports, he is involved in the ongoing grand jury investigation into the 2016 mailer.
Jerzyk is a lobbyist for Twin River, Uber and Bank of America. Efforts to reach Jerzyk were unsuccessful.
* William “Will” Farrell, a top State House lobbyist who is partners with Jerzyk. He previously was a top aide to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Farrell reached for comment declined to comment.
SODCO — a Rhode Island licensed “grow and handler” is listed in American Standard Hemp’s application to the state as a “key partner.” SODCO is led by former Republican State Representative and GOP candidate for Rhode Island Attorney General Dawson Tucker Hodgson.
American Standard Hemp was established and registered as a Rhode Island corporation in October of 2018, according to records filed with the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office.
The registered agent for the company is Jerzyk and the founding incorporator is Farrell.
The two in the van — Sellers and Richard Defedele — were taken into custody for possession of a Schedule 1 substance – a first-degree felony that if convicted, would have lead to years in a state penitentiary.
In June, State prosecutors dropped the charges.
According to the prosecutor in the case — Muskingum County Assistant Prosecutor John Litle, “A sample of the alleged CBD oil seized was sent for independent quantitative testing. As a result of the testing, it was determined that the substance seized contains less than the 0.3% THC threshold contemplated for pending legislation. In fact, it tested at half that level,” reported the Zanesville Times Recorder.
If the two had been convicted, they would have jeopardized the company's license. According to state law, “Persons who have a conviction or nolo plea to a RIGL Chapter 21-28 (RI’s controlled substance act) drug felony or certain other felonies set forth in RIGL 2-26-5(c)(7)(iv) are disqualified from holding an industrial hemp grower or handler license or from being a principal officer, director, owner or agent of an entity held licensee. Violation of this prohibition is grounds for revocation of a license.”
The unveiling of the ownership interests in the hemp company raises questions about the tangled, but questionable relationships between lobbyists and top State House staffers.
“[Pilkington] joined that business while he was just a staffer, he has since been promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff. That role is administrative — he does not work on legislation,” said Larry Berman, spokesperson for Mattiello.
Berman said that Mattiello did not believe there was any conflict.
Updated Thursday 7:33 AM