Prominent Texas Lobbyist Arrested in Alleged Hemp Licensing Scheme

Prominent Texas Lobbyist Arrested in Alleged Hemp Licensing Scheme

Todd Smith, a consultant to Texas’ agriculture commissioner, and associate Keenan Williams have been accused of procuring tens of thousands of dollars from people in exchange for hemp licenses.

May 22, 2021

Authorities in Texas this month charged a prominent Texas lobbyist with conducting a scheme to defraud people eager to participate in the hemp industry out of tens of thousands of dollars.

The lobbyist, Todd Smith, was arrested on May 6 and released the next day from Travis County Jail. Authorities charged him with third-degree felony theft, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. Another Texas man involved with the alleged scheme, Keenan Williams, was charged on Feb. 12 with third-degree felony theft. After he was charged, Williams cooperated with authorities in pursuit of Smith, according to the affidavit.

In a written statement, Smith’s lawyers said: “Todd never violated any laws and did not steal anything from anyone. Todd looks forward to continuing his cooperation with law enforcement and the district attorney to clear his name.”

Smith, who runs a company called Impact Texas Communications, is a top political consultant to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. He also has lobbied for the Texas Conservative Tea Party Coalition and Texans for Traditional Marriage, among other groups.

Transparency USA ranks Smith as the sixth highest-paid lobbyist in Texas, making $5.1 million during the past two years.

The detailed affidavit chronicles attempts by Smith to persuade hemp industry aspirants that he could get them prized hemp licenses as long as they paid $150,000. The heart of the scheme, according to the affidavit, revolved around assertions that Texas would grant only 15 hemp production licenses, making them rare and extremely valuable. However, Texas law does not limit the number of hemp licenses. Gaining one costs $300.

The alleged fraud detailed in the affidavit began at a social gathering on Aug. 18, 2019, just two months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed into law House Bill 1325, which legalized hemp production in the Lone Star State. The affidavit details how one agricultural insider and an associate allegedly took advantage of the naivety of people aspiring to enter the state’s nascent hemp industry.

At the event, Andre Vinson, who was active in the CBD industry, was approached by Keenan Williams, who said he was working closely with Texas Department of Agriculture leadership and could help Vinson gain one of the states prized 15 hemp licenses. To do so, Vinson would need to pay $150,000, which would help pay for a hemp survey and for political lobbying work.

The nine-page affidavit details numerous conversations, text messages and meetings between Williams, Vinson, Smith and other people who Smith allegedly tried to rope into the scheme. The affidavit, the result of about two years of investigative work, alleges that Smith and Williams approached at least five people to pay for or solicit people to pay for exclusive rights to hemp licenses. Two of them—Vinson and a man named William “Bill” Cavalier—paid.

In the end, Smith collected $55,000 through the scheme, and Williams collected $77,500, according to the affidavit.

“Todd Smith created by words and his conduct, a false impression of fact that affected the judgment of others in the transactions to obtain a hemp license and/or conduct a survey that was never attempted by Todd Smith,” the affidavit states.

The affidavit also states that Williams believed Smith’s false assertions that hemp licenses were highly limited, and that people who wanted guaranteed licenses needed to pay $150,000 for the survey—which was never conducted—and for lobbying.

Among other things, Williams shared with investigators a recorded call between himself and Smith, in which Smith says about the arrangement, “You do realize this is not supposed to happen.”

Both men posted bond. Court proceedings have not begun. They face penalties of two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.