Ethics Commission Receives Complaint About Fagan’s Consulting Contract With Cannabis Company

The agency has two days to decide whether to launch an investigation into the matter.

Shemia Fagan during her time as state senator. (Wesley Lapointe)

Update at 4:30 Friday: Ron Bersin, executive director of the Ethics Commission, confirms it has launched an investigation into the Fagan contract. And a second complaint has been submitted to the Oregon Government Ethics commission, this one from state Rep. Anna Scharf (R-Amity). Scharf alleges La Mota’s subsidiary only hired Fagan because of her position as secretary of state. Scharf says that violates ORS 240.040, which prohibits public officials from using their positions for private gain. “Shemia Fagan would not have entered into a consulting contract with a subsidiary of La Mota if she were not the secretary of state and I ask you to investigate,” Scharf writes in her complaint.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission received an ethics complaint early Friday morning about Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s consulting contract with an affiliate of the embattled La Mota cannabis dispensary chain.

Related: Secretary of State Shemia Fagan Is Working as Private Consultant to Troubled Cannabis Couple

The nine-member Ethics Commission is responsible for enforcing state ethics laws that govern the behavior of public officials. Two of the most common situations the commission investigates are whether a public officials’ private interests conflict with their public duties and whether public officials have used their public position for financial benefit.

Ron Bersin, director of the Ethics Commission, says the agency has two days to decide whether to launch an investigation based on the complaint it received about Fagan.

“A complaint was received by the commission at 1:52 am this morning,” Bersin tells WW. “The review includes either opening or not opening the case into preliminary review....Statute allows me two business days to decide.”

In response to questions from WW, Fagan said April 27 that she had begun the consulting work for the owners of La Mota, Rosa Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, and a company they control, in February. Fagan recused herself on Feb. 15 from an audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, where Cazares and Mitchell have 50 licenses.

However, records show Fagan’s recusal from the OLCC audit came one week after the audit, which the Audits Division began in December 2021, was substantially finished. The division, which Fagan oversees, released its audit today, but its contents were overshadowed by the revelation of Fagan’s contract with La Mota’s owners.

Records as early as January 2021 show Fagan asked that Cazares be involved in the scope of the audit. Fagan urged auditors in multiple emails to contact Cazares for the audit, and Cazares emailed Fagan with recommendations for what the audit should include—mostly ways to ease the regulatory burden on businesses like hers.

The La Mota chain and its owners have been issued more than $7 million in state and federal tax liens in recent years and have been sued in Oregon circuit courts 30 times. Many of the complaints allege nonpayment of bills. As Cazares and Mitchell’s troubles accumulated, they and their companies contributed more than $200,000 to top Democratic politicians, including Gov. Tina Kotek, Fagan and Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego).

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