WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Brian Bairos was already opening a marijuana cultivation facility in Warwick in 2018 when he decided to try and expand into the retail market in Massachusetts.
Testifying in federal court in Boston earlier this month, Bairos recalled that he set his sights on Fall River, setting up a meeting with then-Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia and his chief of staff at City Hall where Bairos pitched his “seed-to-sale” operation called Giving Tree Health Center.
On the stand, Bairos described himself as a marijuana cultivator in Rhode Island. (At the time of his meeting in Fall River, Rhode Island was not allowing any more marijuana dispensaries to apply for licensure.)
Through a middleman, Bairos ultimately agreed to pay a $150,000 bribe to the Fall River mayor in exchange for a letter of non-opposition and host community agreement from the city, which were both required in Massachusetts prior to the licensing process with the Cannabis Control Commission.
He said he paid the bribe in a combination of cash and more than a dozen pounds of marijuana to a Correia associate named Tony Costa, who later pleaded guilty to his involvement in the scheme.
Correia was convicted by a jury earlier this month of 21 criminal counts that included extorting Bairos, who started cooperating with prosecutors in 2019 under an agreement that gave him immunity from prosecution for bribing the mayor.
Meanwhile, though, Bairos remained a licensed marijuana cultivator in Rhode Island, selling cannabis to a compassion center in Providence as recently as 2020, according to documents obtained by Target 12.
Bairos’ name was redacted from court documents in the Correia case, up until the trial several weeks ago.
The R.I. Department of Business Regulation is now in the midst of seeking to shut down Colorado Ave LLC, the cultivation facility Bairos owns on Colorado Avenue in Warwick, in part because of his involvement in the bribery scandal. Documents filed with DBR list him as an owner, manager and president of the grow facility.
A show-cause order issued to Colorado Ave this past February details a long list of violations for which the state wants to shut the facility down, including failing to ensure DBR’s real-time camera access to the facility, and failing to appropriately tag and track cannabis plants and inventory as required by state regulators.
It also cites “respondent’s failure to uphold its fitness to engage in the medical marijuana industry by Mr. Bairos’ participating in Giving Tree’s extortion.”
A hearing date has not yet been yet. Bairos and the attorneys for the cultivation facility could not immediately be reached for comment.
“We are moving forward with revocation,” said Pamela Toro, the associate director and chief legal counsel at DBR.
The agency ordered the grow facility to cease operations during the pending proceedings.
Bairos is not the only marijuana vendor involved in the Correia scandal who is tied to Rhode Island cannabis, Target 12 has learned.
David Brayton of Little Compton, who testified to paying a $100,000 bribe when he was seeking to open a Fall River dispensary, has applied to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Union Avenue in Providence called Faded Minds.
Brayton, who testified he resigned from his Fall River company Xiphias Wellness amid the criminal case, described himself in an application submitted in December as a “successful marijuana business operator in Massachusetts.”
Large portions of the 200-page application are redacted, so it’s unclear if Brayton disclosed his involvement in the Correia case. But DBR deemed his application qualified for a random lottery expected to take place in August. (Four applications were disqualified for various reasons.)
Asked Wednesday why Brayton’s involvement in the Correia case was not disqualifying, a spokesperson for DBR indicated Faded Minds’ approval status could change.
“DBR reserves the right to disqualify applicants based on new information,” Brian Hodge said. “Beyond that, we cannot comment on ongoing investigatory matters.”
Hodge did not say exactly when DBR became aware that Brayton bribed a public official. But the list of qualified applicants was released on April 30, three days before Brayton took the stand in the Correia trial.
Brayton could not immediately be reached for comment. He also received immunity from prosecution.
Rhode Island leaders have sought in recent years to prevent what happened in Fall River from happening in Rhode Island, where the state has been slower to expand marijuana retailers than Massachusetts.
There are still only three medical dispensaries — with six more expected to be picked out of a lottery in August — and legalization of recreational marijuana is still being debated at the State House.
Matthew Santacroce, the chief of the R.I. Office of Cannabis Regulation, said the lottery is one way to prevent political influence and corruption, since the selection of licensees will be random.
Santacroce also noted that Massachusetts’ requirement for local non-opposition letters and host community agreements with municipalities “in some ways created a fertile ground for bad actors to come in and trade chips in that below-ground economy.”
Rhode Island municipalities can regulate cannabis retailers via zoning ordinances, but don’t approve or deny individual stores before they go on to state regulators.
It’s unclear if any other players in the Correia case are involved in Rhode Island. Toro said DBR is continuing to review the situation.
“We’ll certainly continue to keep apprised of that,” Toro said. “If we come across some information that’s concerning … we follow the process.”