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Former lawmaker who headed Michigan marijuana board sent to prison for bribery

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A man formerly known as a powerful Michigan lawmaker was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in federal prison for accepting bribes as head of a marijuana licensing board.

Rick Johnson admitted to accepting at least $110,000 when he led the board from 2017 to 2019.

“I’m a corrupt politician,” Johnson told the judge, according to The Detroit News.

Johnson was a powerful Republican lawmaker years ago, serving as speaker of the House from 2001 to 2004. He then became a lobbyist and eventually chairman of a board that reviewed and approved applications to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes.

U.S. District Judge Jane Beckering sentenced Johnson to about four and a half years in prison.

“You exploited your power and planned it even before you got the appointment,” Beckering said.

Two lobbyists who referred to Johnson as “Batman” in text messages also pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges. A Detroit-area businessman who paid bribes, John Dalaly, was recently sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of nearly six years for Johnson. In a court filing, they said one of the lobbyists paid him to have sex with a woman.

“Rick Johnson’s brazen corruption tainted an emerging industry, squandered public trust and disregarded a democracy that depends on the rule of law,” U.S. Attorney Mark Totten said after the hearing.

Michigan voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2008. A decade later, voters approved the recreational use of marijuana.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer abolished the medical marijuana board a few months after taking office in 2019 and placed oversight of the industry within a state agency.