Marijuana business management company Notis Global Inc. and its founder – whose wealth was briefly calculated in the billions in 2014 – settled securities fraud charges related to a stock inflation scam on Thursday.
Founder Vincent Mehdizadeh ponied up $12 million to settle his portion of the Securities and Exchange Commission case, and is now barred from acting as an officer of a public company or participate in any penny stock offerings.
The SEC filed the charges on Thursday against the downtown company, formerly MedBox, and Mehdizadeh, alleging the entrepreneur masterminded a scheme to inflate the company’s earnings and manipulate its stock. Former MedBox Chief Executive Bruce Bedrick was also charged along with Mehdizadeh’s former fiancee, Yocelin Legaspi, and third-party company New-Age Investment Consulting Inc., which was allegedly established to perpetrate the fraud.
Notis Global also settled with the SEC, according to the government, while litigation continues against Bedrick, Legaspi, and New-Age.
The SEC filing details Mehdizadeh’s alleged illegal dealings and how he and Bedrick shifted stock and cash back-and-forth between MedBox and New-Age in order to boost the company’s reported revenue. The revenue numbers received a lot of attention at a time when investors were looking to put cash into the suddenly desirable cannabis industry. Mehdizadeh and Bedrick knew their business was not successful, according to the SEC’s complaint, but cashed in anyway.
“This false track record of operating revenue distinguished Medbox from other companies in the burgeoning marijuana industry at the time, an outcome no doubt intended by defendants,” the complaint reads. “As Mehdizadeh put it in a text message to Bedrick, ‘the only thing we are really good at is public company publicity and stock awareness. We get an A+ for creating revenue off sheer will but that won't continue.’”
The alleged scheme was so successful that MedBox shares briefly traded for as much $98 a share in January 2013, making Mehdizadeh a billionaire – at least on paper. That all came crashing down in 2014 when an independent audit forced MedBox to restate its earnings from 2012, 2013, and the first quarter of 2014.
The SEC charges announced on Thursday are not Mehdizadeh’s first brush with the law. The businessman, who immigrated from Iran with his family in 1979, has been convicted of grand theft, intent to defraud, trespassing, driving without a license, and loitering with the intent to solicit prostitution, according to court records. Mehdizadeh also filed for bankruptcy in 2010, owing $3.2 million, mostly to the Internal Revenue Service.
Notis Global was founded as a company that made point-of-sale vending machines to distribute marijuana in medical dispensaries. The company has since moved on to become a management outfit, which operates and invests in cannabis businesses, according to Notis Global’s website. According to the company’s latest earnings statement filed in October, Notis Global’s financial position had stabilized somewhat from 2015 when the company reported a loss of $50.5 million. In the sixths months ending June 30, 2016, the company had revenue of roughly $474,000 and a net loss of about $6.3 million.
The company did not immediately respond to request for comment.