Profits lure investors to Ohio pot plan

Dayton doctor invests in one of 10 proposed pot-growing sites.

Dr. Suresh Gupta is investing in the marijuana business with Alan Mooney, a financial advisor from suburban Columbus.

“I think it’s very important for this project to have a person, a doctor with my background, to do it right for the medical use,” Gupta told the Dayton Daily News. “I’m mostly interested in medical use of the marijuana.”

According to Licking County records, Gupta in January bought 35 acres in Pataskala for $282,000 — one of 10 locations identified by ResponsibleOhio as an indoor pot growing site. ResponsibleOhio is pursuing a possible ballot issue in the fall that would make Ohio the fifth state in the country to allow both recreational and medical marijuana use.

As more names of investors in the pot plan come to light, detailed information on their business interests and track records is starting to emerge. An examination of Gupta’s background shows that during his 21-year medical career in Ohio, he has faced five medical malpractice claims, two personal injury cases, multiple business lawsuits and the gross sexual imposition charges, according to Montgomery County court records. He was acquitted in the criminal case in July 2008 and the medical malpractice and injury cases were settled or dismissed, according to a Daily News review of court records.

Gupta also faced an administrative action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008 that accused him of falsifying records submitted in a drug trial. An FDA spokeswoman said the agency accepted Gupta’s response and the case is closed.

Gupta graduated in 1980 from Maharaja Krishna Chandra Gajapati Medical College in India and has been licensed to practice medicine in Ohio since 1993, according to the State Medical Board records. He has no disciplinary history, according to the State Medical Board.

Gupta said neither he nor his insurance company have ever paid a penny on the civil cases and a jury found him not guilty of the criminal charges. He describes himself as an upstanding community leader who raises money for charity, employs 350 people, raised three kids, has been married 32 years and enjoys tennis and ballroom dancing.

He got involved in ResponsibleOhio because he believes marijuana can be used to treat medical conditions from childhood seizures to glaucoma to cancer.

“I feel that with a doctor on the team, on this project, dispensaries can be done right, placed in strategic locations,” he said. “We’re going to need to teach the doctors how to prescribe or (what) dose to prescribe for different conditions, medical conditions.”

Mooney, his business partner in the Pataskala site, described Gupta as a friend and said he is a “family man and a down to earth guy.”

“He is a true caregiver if I ever met one,” said Mooney, who pitches investment advice through amateur-produced online videos. “Anybody that makes money today in this litigious society has been sued, I’m sure.”

Gupta said he met Mooney a few years ago through a connection at Ohio State University where Gupta’s youngest child is a student.

Jon Allison of the Drug Free Action Alliance, which opposes legalizing marijuana, said he was not familiar with the specifics of Gupta’s background. But, he said, “His past is fair game for Ohio voters to consider. While the law may not prohibit him from proposing a constitutional amendment, he is asking the voters to consider his past and character.”

‘Tsunami of money’

So far, ResponsibleOhio has identified a dozen financial backers and more investor names are expected to be released soon. But critics like Allison say there is a lack of transparency involved in ResponsibleOhio’s efforts and it is not clear who is bankrolling the campaign.

This much is clear: the potential for profit has investors clamoring to get in on the action.

Filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show seven investors each contributed $4 million to seven different limited liability corporations linked to ResponsibleOhio. That means at least $28 million has been raised for the plan.

Mooney has more than 30 years experience in asset protection and off-shore corporations and lived in the Bahamas for several years, according to his websites. He says that Pope Benedict knighted him “Sir Alan” in 2007 as a member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher and records show he holds a state minister’s license for the “Society of Thinking Christians.”

In a YouTube video that is no longer public, Mooney pitched to several potential business partners while standing in front of a Bob Marley poster. During the 42-minute video, Mooney said legal marijuana would bring on a “green rush” with an unimaginable number of business opportunities.

“Let’s hop on this tsunami of money and ride the top of that wave to some enrichment for us,” he said.

Aside from controlling a growing site with Gupta, Mooney indicated he wants to launch a series of webinars and seminars to advise entrepreneurs on legal marijuana business opportunities, trademark names for pot strains, and push goods into retail shops across Ohio.

“All I’m saying is: Are there a lot of business opportunities? They are beyond your imagination right now,” he said in one YouTube video.

At one point in the video, an animated Mooney during one of his seminars picks up a retractable red ball, says it’s like a brain that could be opened up and then puts it on his head. “Oh, that’s marijuana,” he jokes. “What do they call that? Rage? Reefer madness. Alright.”

Allison, who served as chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Bob Taft, said he wouldn’t be surprised if that clip is woven into a campaign commercial against the ballot issue. Of Mooney, Allison said, “He is obviously a very creative guy. On paper he looks like a very successful business man. With a political consultant’s eye on it, I don’t know that I’d want him as spokesman.”

In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, Mooney said he said he did not realize the video was posted to the web and he had instructed his IT manager to remove it.

Mooney said he was initially skeptical of legal marijuana but came to believe it would help patients with painful and debilitating medical conditions. And after working as a prison minister for six years, he came to believe that enforcing marijuana laws is costly and unjust.

Lack of transparency?

Information about Gupta, Mooney and other investors, which include venture capitalists, real estate developers and current and former professional athletes, is in the public realm.

What remains hidden, though, is who exactly is financing the political campaign to collect 306,000 valid signatures from Ohio voters and then convince a majority of voters to say yes to the constitutional amendment. So far, backers have poured $1.73 million into the campaign and spent $1.29 million, according to the finance report filed by ResponsibleOhio’s political action committee.

Contributions came from 10 newly formed limited liability corporations that share addresses in either Columbus or Cincinnati.

ResponsibleOhio is organized as a 501(c)4, which references a section of federal tax code. Such groups are set up to promote social causes, but they’ve become extremely common and influential in the world of politics.

These groups can spend up to half of their money on politics and they don’t have to disclose their donors. They often have multiple arms, such as a political action committee, which does have to disclose donors and expenditures.

The Ohio-based LLCs that contributed to ResponsibleOhio PAC are: GTI Investors, Bridge Property Group, Verdure GCE, PrestonCox Industries, WF Green Investments, Abhang Co., OhioVen, DGF, Grow 2015 and NG Green Investments. Exactly who is funding these LLCs is not disclosed.

Allison said ResponsibleOhio suffers from a lack of transparency, including in its campaign finance filings.

“If you’re trying to convince Ohio voters to make this huge policy shift, a significant amount of transparency would help their cause,” he said. “They seem to be doing the opposite.”

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