A lawsuit filed last week against a West Hills couple and a bodybuilding coach reads like a road map for federal prosecutors looking to crack down on black-market weed.
For six months, industry insiders and state officials alike have fretted that the glut of Oregon cannabis is pressuring growers to leak pot into the black market. Now a "master grower" accuses his bosses of doing exactly that—and stiffing him for $59,450 in unpaid wages and unreimbursed expenses.
He's pointing the finger at a Southeast Portland gym operator and the couple who renovated the West Hills house that sports a giant glowing martini glass each winter.
Matthew Booth alleges in his June 21 lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, that the owners of F&H Enterprise LLC chronically underpaid him, with the promise he would recoup his lost wages after his employers sold the harvest.
"These guys that have money watched him do all the work and then told him to go jump in a lake," Booth's attorney, Tim Volpert, says. "They just stiffed him. They refused to pay."
The indoor weed grow Booth sued is called F&H Enterprise. The company is owned by Noel Fuller, and when Booth worked there, it was also funded by husband-and-husband pair Gary Giroir and Aaron Hall. The trio face a demand for $261,050 in damages.
Booth alleges he was promised $25 an hour, plus 20 percent of the revenues made selling the weed. According to the lawsuit, Fuller, Giroir and Hall told him they could not pay the full rate until after the harvest. Even after the flower was trimmed, Booth claims he was not paid what he was owed.
Booth also alleges the trio sold cannabis directly to consumers "off the books" and without a retail license. He goes on to accuse the business owners of allowing an unlicensed cultivator to set up an illegal grow on their property to evade regulators.
He alleges his bosses' illegal practices cost the business money and led to him not being paid.
Multiple phone calls and messages to Giroir, Hall and their attorney were not returned by press deadline.
Giroir works as a nurse and is married to Hall, a local architect who renovated the house where a mammoth martini glass glows above the West Hills each year during the holiday season. Hall bought the iconic home in 2013 and removed the martini glass for a year to refurbish it, outfit it with energy-saving LED lights and finish remodeling the house.
Fuller, who shows off photos on Facebook of the female bodybuilders he trains, owns a gym that operates under at least three names, including Jungle Gym, Foster Fitness and Noel Fuller Training. He was in the news in March, when he stopped a man fleeing the scene of an attempted robbery.
Fuller's gym is attached to the same warehouse where the trio grew cannabis in the Foster-Powell neighborhood. Booth claims in the suit that he saw Fuller "illegally selling and administering steroids to individuals in conjunction with defendant Fuller's fitness business, Foster Fitness, next door to the cannabis grow."
Reached by phone at his gym, Fuller told WW he did not know Booth and has never heard of F&H Enterprise. (The business is registered in his name with the Oregon secretary of state at an address in the same building as his gym.)
"You've got the wrong guy," he said over the phone when asked about the lawsuit. When asked if he knew a man named Aaron Hall, whose name also appears on multiple public records related to F&H Enterprise, he responded, "How many drinks have you had this morning? This is the strangest phone call I've ever received.
"My lawyer's name is Bob, so you can go ahead and try to talk to him," he said when WW offered to show him a copy of the lawsuit. "No, you can't have his last name. He doesn't like to be bothered."
The allegations are presented like a neon sign for federal and state authorities.
Law enforcement scrutiny of black-market cannabis has intensified this year, in part because Oregon is saturated with bud. Oregon growers harvested three times what consumers smoked the previous year ("Too Much Weed," WW, April 18, 2018). The price of marijuana plummeted—in part because of a flood of new producers licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last year.
In January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo, which promised to keep federal drug enforcement agents out of state-regulated cannabis markets. Five months later, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams declared an intent to focus marijuana enforcement on people who break Oregon's laws, make illegal sales, and traffic pot across state lines. Williams highlighted the surplus of cannabis spilling into the black market and across state lines in a memo he issued in May.
"This will be a top priority until overproduction that feeds exportation of marijuana across Oregon's borders stops," the memo says. "Notably, since broader legalization took effect in 2015, large quantities of marijuana from Oregon have been seized in 30 states, most of which continue to prohibit marijuana."
State regulators are also concerned. Jesse Sweet, administrative policy and process director for the OLCC, which governs recreational cannabis sales in the state, says the agency is shifting its focus from licensing to compliance. Last winter, the agency started its undercover minor decoy program to catch and cite dispensaries that violate the law by selling to underage buyers.
Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for Williams' office, says he cannot confirm or deny the U.S. attorney is investigating F&H Enterprise.
The company no longer has an OLCC marijuana producer license, says agency spokesman Mark Pettinger. The property where the F&H grew cannabis is now used by a plumbing company.
OLCC documents show Hall and Fuller each owned more than 10 percent of the company. No complaints against F&H had been filed with the OLCC, but it did not renew its license this year.
The bevy of detail in the lawsuit ultimately raises a question: Why would Booth point the feds to his bosses?
The lawsuit itself offers a clue. It alleges that Booth's wages were withheld because he observed his bosses breaking the law and because he complained about not being paid. The suit says he included the allegations of illegal activity to make a claim that he was retaliated against for objecting to his employers' "reprehensible and malicious conduct."
This story has been updated with the jurisdiction of the lawsuit.