Marijuana Dispensary Trio Failed to Mention Family Tie

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Mar. 11, 2019 12:00 am   6 min read

Don Sears, Frankie Sears and Todd Sears were each awarded a license to operate medical marijuana dispensaries in Arkansas.

A Mayflower family that failed to acknowledge their relationship is at the center of an investigation and a lawsuit over the granting of licenses for three medical marijuana dispensaries in Arkansas.

Don Sears and his wife, Frankie, along with his son, Todd, each answered “No” to the question on the dispensary applications asking whether any owner is “in any way affiliated” with any other dispensary or cultivation applicant. The applications included notarized signatures certifying that the applicants understood that any “misstatement or concealment of fact” could result in license revocation.

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division opened an investigation into the applications after Little Rock lawyer Quentin E. May complained in late January about the Searses’ applications, saying it appeared the family was trying to establish a “family monopoly” in the state.

ABC Enforcement Director Boyce Hamlet has acknowledged a friendship with Todd Sears. Fearing that the relationship might delay the investigation, May filed a lawsuit Feb. 14 in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of Green Remedies Group, another dispensary applicant, in hopes of preventing the state from awarding the licenses to the Searses for their dispensaries.

Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, told Arkansas Business on Tuesday that the investigation by enforcement officer Rob Bacile would be handed to ABC Director Doralee Chandler in April. If a violation of the application process is discovered, Chandler will then decide whether that violation merits revocations of the awarded dispensary licenses.

Members of the Sears family were awarded the following licenses:

  • THC Rx Inc., 100 percent owned by Todd Sears, located in West Memphis;
  • Doctors Orders RX, 100 percent owned by Don Sears, located in Hot Springs; and
  • PainFree RX, 100 percent owned by Frankie Sears, located in Pine Bluff.

Hardin said May’s complaint wasn’t the only one received by the ABC after the Searses were awarded licenses. He said an anonymous complaint was submitted, almost identical in scope, to May’s.

Sears Family Ties
The Searses did not return several messages left by Arkansas Business, but information about them can be gleaned from publicly available records and news reports. For example, each of the Searses is named as a principal and director of Willy D’s Rock & Roll Piano Bar Inc. of Little Rock.

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Licensed Marijuana Cultivators in Arkansas, with investors ranked by ownership stake.

Willy D’s owner Danny Brown is CEO and part owner of Bold Team LLC, which is opening a marijuana cultivation site in Cotton Plant.

The Bold Team’s cultivation application also answered “No” to the affiliation question; Hardin said a protest was lodged by attorney Darren Anderson of Texarkana but Anderson’s complaints were centered on the company’s land and site procurement.

The names of the Sears family also appear in news accounts of the deadly tornado that hit Mayflower and Vilonia on April 27, 2014.

In a story published July 13, 2014, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette described how Don Sears showed a reporter what was left of his home and his son’s next door.

“Sears said his many business interests have kept him from focusing as much on the aftermath of the Faulkner County tornado,” the Democrat-Gazette reported. “He’s in real estate, and he and his son, Todd, own Sears Construction Development and Leasing.”

Don Sears told the newspaper that he spent 39 years in the Army and Army National Guard.

“‘That’s why so many people know me around the state,’ he said. His wife served in the military for 21 years; their daughter, Roni Bowman, served 15 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard; and Todd served for 23 in the Army National Guard.”

In a lengthy article published Feb. 27, 2017, the Democrat-Gazette reported on Frankie Sears’ interview about her time in the Arkansas Army National Guard. The interview was part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

The article described Frankie Sears’ nursing and military careers. “She was the first woman to serve as president of the Arkansas Army National Guard,” the article said. “In fact, she was the first woman to serve as president of any state Army National Guard association. She was also the first woman in the Arkansas Army National Guard to graduate from the U.S. Army War College.”

Relief Sought
Quentin May said he originally handed a letter protesting the Searses’ licenses to Hamlet, the ABC enforcement chief. May said Hamlet promised he would look into it. Six days later, however, Hamlet recused himself from overseeing the investigation because of his friendship with Todd Sears, and May responded by filing a lawsuit on behalf of Green Remedies Group on Feb. 13.

“I had filed a complaint with ABC Enforcement about the applicants,” May said. “We felt like [ABC Enforcement] was intentionally delaying it. Maybe they weren’t and maybe a lot of coincidences just happened to pop up. It didn’t really seem that way, though.”

May said the lawsuit originally sought a temporary or permanent injunction. He said that now that licenses have been issued, he will change the relief sought to a revocation of the Searses’ licenses.

Green Remedies applied for a dispensary in Garland County but was scored as the fifth-best applicant, with 361.72 points, in geographic Zone 6 by Public Consulting Group of Boston; Doctors Orders RX, Don Sears’ dispensary, was scored third-best with 365.67 points. Four dispensary licenses were awarded for each of the state’s eight zones, so if Doctors Orders’ license were revoked, Green Remedies could conceivably receive the fourth Zone 6 license.

Green Remedies is led by CEO Michael Butler, CFO Don Brewington Jr. and COO Brad Fausett.

Hardin said ABC Director Chandler — if she found a violation on the application had occurred and was material — could issue penalties that range from a fine to license revocation. There is also an appeal process to any decision Chandler makes.

May said he believes the Searses lied on their applications and a $5,000 fine would send the wrong message. He said in his Jan. 30 letter it appeared the Searses were trying to establish a “family monopoly” in the state.

“The question had to have been in the application for a reason: Are you affiliated in any way with any other applicant?” May said. “These guys felt they needed to lie to the ABC commission on the application for some reason. I don’t know what that reason is. The bottom line is they did.”

Don and Frankie Sears’ address is next door to Todd Sears’ address on River Road in Mayflower. May joked about how any of them could forget they were affiliated with each other: “‘I totally forgot I’m married to this guy and live in the same house.’”

ABC Investigation
DF&A spokesman Scott Hardin said enforcement officer Bacile’s findings wouldn’t be released until the investigation was completed and Chandler had made her decision.

May’s initial complaint led to his suspicion that Hamlet intentionally delayed the investigation by taking six days to recuse himself. According to May, Hamlet then handed the investigation over to Sharon Reed, who was on vacation, who then assigned it to Bacile, who was out of town.

When asked about May’s characterizations of his recusal, Hamlet said May’s allegations were incorrect. He had originally chosen to oversee the investigation but decided later to err on the side of caution and recuse.

Hamlet described his relationship with Todd Sears as a friendship where they occasionally talk through phone or text messages and see each other a couple of times a year. Hamlet said Sears manages “up to three” liquor stores in the state, so he is known to ABC.

“It was a borderline case; I know Todd,” Hamlet said. “I don’t know him that well. I felt after deliberating on it a little bit that it was the best move to make sure there weren’t any questions of impropriety.”

Hamlet then stressed that the investigation is being handled by Bacile and that overseers have little influence in the long run on the results. Hardin said Bacile is handling all the medical marijuana investigations.

Chandler will ultimately decide if the Searses’ answers were a violation of the affiliation question and, if so, what punishment is warranted.

May said it is important that public trust be restored to the process instead of rewarding what he calls the “old, rich, white guy club.”

“I’ve made this statement before and I’ll make it again: If they want to restore some integrity to this system and restore some public trust, liars shouldn’t be rewarded for lying and cheaters should not be rewarded for cheating,” May said.

“If they lie or cheat, they shouldn’t get a license. If they do anything less than revoking the license — like fine them $5,000 — all they are doing is sending a message to the Arkansas people that once again it is OK to lie and cheat the Arkansas government as long as you have money.”

 

 

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