A year before a nonprofit co-founded by La Mota CEO Rosa Cazares received a half-million dollar grant from the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries, records show the agency tried to create an apprenticeship program specifically for Cazares’ company.
That’s important for two reasons. First, then-BOLI Commissioner and now U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Ore.) received major campaign contributions from Cazares and the co-owner of La Mota, Aaron Mitchell. Second, the cannabis apprenticeship La Mota pursued—and the grant its offshoot nonprofit would eventually receive in the fall of 2022—weren’t legally viable. Records newly obtained by WW show BOLI staff was aware of that in 2021 but pushed forward anyway for the better part of a year.
Here are some key dates that turn up in documents released by BOLI to WW in response to a public records request.
MARCH 24, 2021: La Mota’s traceable relationship with BOLI appears to have started here, when BOLI Commissioner Hoyle dined with Cazares at Portland City Grill to discuss a La Mota-specific apprenticeship. Hoyle was accompanied by Lisa Ransom, director of the apprenticeship and training division at BOLI.
Hoyle spokeswoman Marissa Sandgren says it wasn’t unusual for the state labor commissioner to discuss apprenticeship opportunities with individuals: “Val would talk to a lot of people about apprenticeships, and those could be at dinners, events, coffee, or meetings.” Sandgren says.
APRIL 1, 2021: Cazares’ assistant emailed Ransom, saying Cazares “wanted me to reach out to you regarding the apprenticeship that was discussed. She mentioned you would like to set up a white board meeting.” A meeting followed shortly thereafter.
Emails show the three state-aided apprenticeship positions La Mota wanted to create were Store Manager, Supply Chain Analyst and Horticulturist.
Records show Ransom then delegated the matter, primarily to a staffer in her division named Irene Aviles, who over the next eight months met multiple times with La Mota staff to discuss an apprenticeship for the company. Emails suggest La Mota representatives—including Cazares herself—were sporadic in their communication, failed to follow up with needed paperwork, and were the pursued, not the pursuers, in the relationship.
JUNE 2021: Aaron Mitchell, who owns La Mota, contributed $20,000 to Hoyle.
EARLY DECEMBER 2021: The conversation about the apprenticeship appeared to revive in earnest. Aviles wrote to Cazares: “We look forward to meeting with you and working with you to move along the pathway to create a successful apprenticeship program that assists you in meeting La Mota’s goals.”
This time, La Mota brought others onto the team. Included on a Dec. 9 meeting invite were Annie Ellison, executive director of the powerhouse political training academy Emerge Oregon, and Laura Vega, who would become Cazares’ co-founder of the nonprofit that eight months later would receive the $554,000 grant from BOLI. Vega for a time also worked for La Mota. (Ellison told WW previously that she never accepted any money from La Mota.)
DEC. 9, 2021: Another BOLI employee flagged an issue for Aviles: Because cannabis was federally illegal, and apprenticeship standards were set by the U.S. Department of Labor, a cannabis-based apprenticeship wasn’t viable.
The two appeared to have found a work-around, though.
“If we have to send it to USDOL for approval as a cannabis specific trade; we may have issues,” wrote Loren Burnham, an apprenticeship representative with BOLI. “But I know how to work around that as well. We approve it as a training program, let it run for a few years and work all the kinks out and then resubmit. In the end, they have a standardized method of training, approved by a state agency.”
Aviles concurred: “I think we went through knowing we are not establishing standards that specifically state cannabis in them,” she wrote. “This was my understanding when management brought this to us back in April, hence why I mentioned it again. It was my understanding if we mentioned [cannabis], it could create issues.”
AUG. 26, 2022: It’s not clear why the La Mota apprenticeship never materialized. But eight months later, a nonprofit co-founded by Cazares called ENDVR received a $554,000 grant from BOLI for a cannabis pre-apprenticeship program. Hoyle personally vouched for ENDVR’s proposal, even though the nonprofit had no prior track record. (Additionally, more than half of its board members at the time worked for La Mota.)
Hoyle’s spokeswoman says that was above board. “In 2021-2022, Rosa was someone who had dozens of approved state licenses. Within the context at that time, there was no reason not to work with her in helping to create jobs for Oregon,” Sandgren says. “And like we’ve said before—knowing what we know now, she was never the right partner to work with, and we would do it differently. But at the root of this is really just Val fighting for jobs and apprenticeships so we can build more career pathways.”
MARCH 29, 2023: After WW reported on Cazares and Mitchell’s unpaid bills and tax liens, current BOLI Commissioner Christina Stephenson terminated the $554,000 grant. ENDVR was forced to return all unspent money; records provided by BOLI show the nonprofit had spent $97,000 at that point.
As for ENDVR, whose headquarters are listed as a storage unit in Beaverton, it would appear that some of its directors abandoned it after WW’s series of stories on La Mota. Ellison and Vega, the executive director when ENDVR received the grant, are no longer listed in business filings.
Those filings now list just two names: La Mota’s contracted bookkeeper, Mary Allen, and Cazares.
ENDVR pledged to train four apprentices during its first year of funding—specifically, people of color. A former La Mota employee, Kenny Bowman, when reached by WW, said he was one of two ENDVR apprentices. By all accounts, including his own, Bowman is white. So was the second apprentice, Bowman said.
ENDVR did not respond to a request for comment.