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Million-Dollar Fraud Lawsuit Shakes the State's Pot Power Structure

Lawsuit against Leah and Travis Maurer is an unwanted blast from marijuana’s past.

It's ironic that Leah and Travis Maurer face legal jeopardy for allegedly not growing marijuana.

Travis Maurer moved to Portland after a 2013 felony conviction for growing pot in Missouri. He and his wife, Leah, organized a campaign team and secured funding for the 2014 ballot measure that successfully legalized recreational weed in Oregon.

Last week, the Maurers, now well-known marijuana advocates, were sued for $1 million by a former business partner, Randy Quast—a trucking tycoon who himself moved to Oregon from Minnesota after a weed bust, and became the treasurer of Portland's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Quast says the Maurers tricked him into believing they were growing weed when they weren't.

In the Jan. 15 lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court and first reported by The Oregonian, Quast says he gave the Maurers at least $155,570 to pay off Travis' debts from the legalization campaign, and another $696,760 to start an indoor growing operation and dispensary. But Quast says the dispensary never opened.

"Quast…went to the address of the grow warehouse," the suit says, "where he found that the grow warehouse was empty. Upon further investigation, Quast found out the Maurers had never rented the warehouse…and no marijuana plants had ever been planted or were growing anywhere."

Leah and Travis Maurer responded to inquiries from WW with a prepared statement. "We certainly don't agree with the claims," the Maurers wrote, "and we will respond in due course."

The pot plants may or may not have been real. But the ripple effects from the lawsuit extend far beyond a business deal gone sour.

The Maurers are a fresh-faced poster couple for legal pot. They were co-owners of the state's best-known cannabis news website, the Weed Blog, and Leah Maurer is co-chairwoman of the Portland chapter of Women Grow, a professional guild for women pot entrepreneurs. Travis Maurer was the subject of a Newsweek cover story last month for his crusade to legalize weed in the Midwest.

But the lawsuit is an unwanted blast from marijuana's past.

"It takes us right back into that arena we've tried so hard to get out of," says one longtime marijuana advocate who asked not to be identified. "There was a perception that it was really a lawless community."

Here's who may feel burned by the Maurers' legal troubles.

New Approach Oregon

Leah and Travis Maurer were founding members of New Approach Oregon, the advocacy group that backed Measure 91, which voters passed in 2014 to legalize recreational pot. The Portland-based PAC continues to advocate marijuana law reform, including drug-sentence reduction and protecting the medical-marijuana system from rule changes. Because of his previous criminal record as a marijuana grower, Travis Maurer worked largely behind the scenes at New Approach Oregon in 2014, letting his college friend Anthony Johnson be the face of the campaign. "People working to reform our drug laws have often faced legal challenges," Johnson says now. "Oregon's marijuana movement is strong, and will be fine."

New Approach Missouri

Travis Maurer has made it his mission to bring legal weed to the state where he got busted. A sister organization to New Approach Oregon, New Approach Missouri is attempting to get a medical-marijuana legalization measure on the ballot this fall. The PAC's main backer is the advocacy group Show-Me Cannabis, which was founded by the Maurers. (Leah Maurer remains listed as a board member.) Jack Cardetti, campaign consultant to New Approach Missouri, says Travis Maurer "is not on New Approach Missouri's board or staff, nor does he have any day-to-day involvement in our campaign."

Women Grow

Women Grow is a for-profit organization that aims to foster community and entrepreneurship for women in the marijuana industry nationwide. Leah Maurer is a co-chairwoman of the Portland chapter, as well as a member of the group's speakers' bureau. Sarah Batterby, co-chairwoman of the Portland chapter of Women Grow, says she respects Leah Maurer, and says lawsuits like Quast's get filed "all the time." Susannah Grossman, national spokeswoman for Women Grow, says, "We are continuing to monitor the claims involving Leah Maurer."

The Weed Blog

The Maurers are co-owners of the popular marijuana news website. Travis Maurer formerly served as financial manager for the blog. Christopher Young and Jeffrey White, the Weed Blog's founders, sued him in December for $51,000. In their lawsuit, White and Young allege that Maurer used his position to transfer money from Weed Blog accounts into his own personal accounts. The suit also alleges that Maurer "failed to perform his obligations as chief financial manager," including filing tax returns and maintaining a registry with Oregon's secretary of state. Young and White could not be reached. Maurer declined to comment.

Portland NORML

The Portland advocacy group continues to work for marijuana law reform, including pushing legislation that would allow indoor marijuana lounges and changing city zoning rules. Quast, the plaintiff in the suit against the Maurers, is the group's treasurer. Russ Belville, executive director of Portland NORML, says the lawsuit won't roil cannabis advocacy groups. "Efforts in the state," he says, "have been divided long before Travis Maurer showed up."

Emerge Law Group

The Portland law firm specializes in cannabis cases. One of the firm's lawyers, Dave Kopilak—a chief drafter of Measure 91—is featured heavily in Quast's suit. Kopilak is not named as a defendant, but Quast alleges that he "helped the Maurers find investors for various businesses after which Kopilak failed to prepare proper documents to protect members' rights, thus resulting in providing for the Maurers to take money from investors under false pretenses." Kopilak's association with the Maurers may have far-reaching effects: His partner at Emerge, Amy Margolis, is one of Oregon's top marijuana lobbyists. Kopilak could not be reached, and Margolis declined to comment.