California Fire Department Named In RICO Suit Over Medical Marijuana Dispensary

The Kern County Fire Department has been named as a defendant in a wide-ranging federal Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) lawsuit filed by the principals in a medical marijuana dispensary.

The dispensary, Big O Relief, along with its principals, Doo H. Yoon, Eunice S. Yoon, and Alvaro Ordaz, claim the County, its Board of Supervisors and numerous officials, have illegally conspired to put them out of business.

The RICO act is a federal law aimed at organizations that are involved in a “pattern of racketeering”. The law has both criminal and civil provisions. At its core are the definitions of racketeering activity, and pattern of racketeering activity:

18 U.S. Code § 1961

1) “racketeering activity” means (A) any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act), which is chargeable under State law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year; (B) any act which is indictable under any of the following provisions of title 18, United States Code: Section 201 (relating to bribery), section 224 (relating to sports bribery), sections 471, 472, and 473 (relating to counterfeiting), section 659 (relating to theft from interstate shipment) if the act indictable under section 659 is felonious, section 664 (relating to embezzlement from pension and welfare funds), sections 891–894 (relating to extortionate credit transactions), section 1028 (relating to fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents), section 1029 (relating to fraud and related activity in connection with access devices), section 1084 (relating to the transmission of gambling information), section 1341 (relating to mail fraud), section 1343 (relating to wire fraud), section 1344 (relating to financial institution fraud), section 1351 (relating to fraud in foreign labor contracting), section 1425 (relating to the procurement of citizenship or nationalization unlawfully), section 1426 (relating to the reproduction of naturalization or citizenship papers), section 1427 (relating to the sale of naturalization or citizenship papers), sections 1461–1465 (relating to obscene matter), section 1503 (relating to obstruction of justice), section 1510 (relating to obstruction of criminal investigations), section 1511 (relating to the obstruction of State or local law enforcement), section 1512 (relating to tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant), section 1513 (relating to retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant), section 1542 (relating to false statement in application and use of passport), section 1543 (relating to forgery or false use of passport), section 1544 (relating to misuse of passport), section 1546 (relating to fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents), sections 1581–1592 (relating to peonage, slavery, and trafficking in persons).

(5) “pattern of racketeering activity” requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity;

The predicate acts that Kern County is accused of committing include:

  • Fraud/Intentional Misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation
  • Defamation
  • Assault and Battery

Here is a more in-depth explanation of the plaintiffs’ claims as alleged in the complaint:

  • The primary objective of the racketeering enterprise has been to gain political favor, enhance individual Defendants’ reputations in the community for political and personal gain by inflicting severe and sustained economic and personal (physical and reputational) hardship upon Plaintiffs, with the intent of impairing, obstructing, preventing and discouraging Plaintiffs from operating a medical marijuana dispensary – a topic of great debate among law-abiding citizens of the State of California. Defendants’, and each of their, actions were done despite Big O Relief operating as a legal business within Kern County, California.
  • Additionally, Defendant Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt disclosed at a public Board of Supervisors meeting in August 2017 , that Kern County wanted to rid Kern County of the existing medical marijuana dispensaries so that businesses from Los Angeles could establish their business in Kern County. Director Oviatt further disclosed that allowing such Los Angeles-based business to enter Kern County would save Kern County money because the specified business has a history of filing nuisance lawsuits against their competitors and paying for the removal of existing dispensaries.
  • Defendants’, and each of their, motivations entirely disregard the legality of existing Kern County businesses and demonstrates the personal and professional disregard of the citizens and businesses of Kern County.
  • Defendants accomplished their objectives by administering threats of criminal prosecution, a slanderous smear campaign against Plaintiffs and other medical marijuana dispensary businesses legally operating in Kern County, physically assaulting Plaintiffs’ employees and agents, and confiscation of unique property from Plaintiffs’ business.
  • These acts of racketeering, occurring within two years of one another, constitute a of racketeering activity within the meaning of 18 U.S.C.A’ $ 1961(5)’ Plaintiffs were injured in their business and property by reason of this violation of the laws of California, in that, as a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ complained-of acts, Plaintiffs suffered damages, including loss of property, loss of reputation, closure of their business, physical and emotional injury from having guns pointed at them and handcuffs placed on their wrists unlawfully, and loss of earnings and profits. [Orginal typos included without correction]

Besides racketeering, the complaint also alleges

  • Assault;
  • Battery;
  • Negligence;
  • Defamation: Libel Per Se and Slander;
  • Fraud/Intentional Misrepresentation;
  • Negligent Misrepresentation;
  • Intentional Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage;
  • Negligent Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief. The complaint was filed in Kern County Superior Court in October, and removed to US District Court for the Eastern District of California last week.

If there is any good news, no firefighters were named as individual defendants. The same cannot be said for the many elected officials, county attorneys, the county sheriff, and building officials who were named.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Kern County Complaint

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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