Oregon’s top Republican leaders called on Monday for Gov. Tina Kotek to include WW’s findings about La Mota, the state’s second-largest cannabis dispensary chain, which has a history of lawsuits and tax liens issued by the feds and the state, in an independent investigation of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
The OLCC is currently under criminal investigation by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum after top agency leaders were found to have earmarked rare bottles of whiskey unavailable to the public for themselves and friends to purchase. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to the co-owner of WW’s parent company.) Since February, GOP leaders—including Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) and House Minority Leader Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson (R-Prineville)—have demanded that Kotek instead hire an external investigator to probe the OLCC.
Now, they’re renewing that demand—and requesting that the investigation broaden its scope to look into how the agency dealt with La Mota and whether the chain received special treatment.
“On multiple occasions you have committed to increasing accountability and oversight in state government,” the legislators wrote to Kotek. “In the spirit of government transparency, working Oregonians deserve assurance they can trust their legislature and state agencies. Consistent with our shared goals of accountability and transparency, we ask that you take immediate action.”
The OLCC continued to grant the La Mota chain new licenses each year even as the couple that founded it, Rosa Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, and companies they control were issued millions in state and federal tax liens and faced more than two dozen lawsuits in Oregon circuit courts, many alleging unpaid bills. At the same time, Cazares and Mitchell, who moved to Oregon from Florida in 2009, contributed over $200,000 to top Democratic politicians, including Gov. Kotek, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, and former Bureau of Labor & Industries Commissioner and now U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Ore.).
The couple hosted intimate fundraisers for Kotek and Fagan in a Northwest hills mansion; they threw a pickleball fundraiser for Kotek in which Mitchell and the soon-to-be governor were a team; and they co-hosted a black-tie gala for Kotek in October.
And the La Mota controversy now touches more than one state agency.
Last week, the Bureau of Labor & Industries terminated a $554,000 grant awarded last fall to a nonprofit co-founded by Cazares. The agency officially terminated the grant the same day WW published the findings of its investigation into La Mota and its owners.
“Perhaps most alarming,” Knopp and Breese-Iverson write, “is that La Mota’s co-founded nonprofit received a half-million-dollar grant from the state of Oregon [that] was mysteriously and abruptly terminated the day after Willamette Week’s story broke. These actions demand a deeper investigation.”