By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
Despite Zen Healing Collective’s primary operator sitting in jail for the foreseeable future having pleaded guilty to 26 felony counts of what can only be called “mobster” activity, as well as potentially facing a revocation of its license because of it that past association, Zen’s staff and clients drew a deep breath (I believe it’s called a toke) of relief Monday night after the West Hollywood Business License Commission decided to follow advise from staff revised to recommend a suspension over the previous recommendation of revocation.
At issue was a fundamental question – How well has the collective insulated itself from financial involvement with former dispensary operator Andrew Harrison Kramer, age 39, who pleaded guilty in late March to conspiracy to commit home invasion robbery, stalking and attempt to burn.?
If that’s not enough for the city to want to lose the loser, in his spare time he hired people to attack his former business partner, George Lanning, and his entire family, including his wife Nancee and three adult children. He pleaded guilty to all that.
That doesn’t cover the arson-related charges; Andrew Kramer pleaded guilty to three counts of arson of an uninhabited structure and two counts of arson, and he admitted allegations he used an accelerant, according to Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose.
As would any municipality, the city would have liked the dispensary to also go away for 25-life; certainly its residential neighbors impacted on either side of Santa Monica Boulevard (although the south side of Santa Monica is mostly commercial property) want that.
In taking up the question of what to do with Mr. Kramer’s club, the first reaction was one of “shut it down,” or “give the license to a responsibly run collective.”
But the Business License Commission is a body that must make sure that businesses in West Hollywood comply with the law; it is not empowered to exact retribution.
Jeffrey Aubel, Code Compliance Manager, suggested that, rather than take away the license and hand it to someone else to operate in compliance of the law, the city should first make a complete investigate of Zen’s business dealings and finances post-Kramer to should show if the remaining management could do so without disruption to the clients.
The commission agreed that harshly punishing a non-profit business with revocation for the sins of its former leader without evidence that the current management is also acting as a scofflaw would be unjust, so ordered a deeper look into the non-profits books and operations.
Before going away for a long time, Mr. Kramer began his West Hollywood experience operating Sunset Shoppe medical marijuana dispensary on the Sunset Strip, which he gave up in 2007-9.
Bbecause zoning code sets the land-use permanently (or until voted changed by commission or council), the building owners, George and Nansee Lanning, took advantage of that loophole to operate the dispensary there.
Mr. Kramer, flush with the Lannings $1 million purchase of the Sunset Shoppe plus a year’s worth of consulting fees and holding a permit to open a dispensary in the city, took over the Zen location in 2009.
Then pot criminal chaos ensued. You must wonder how potheads could get off the couch after planning the activities to put them into action.
Anyway, Mr. Kramer’s indictment and list of crimes was impressive by any standard, your can tell from what he copped to:
His guilty plea approved language from the District Attorney’s Office that said he was a primary, “conspirator in a sophisticated criminal enterprise…” who ran “multiple retail marijuana dispensaries, which engaged in violence and intimidation to expand its operations and dissuade competition.”
Pointing to his multifarious illegal activities, a U.S. Attorney described Mr. Kramer as a “one of those underground drug dealing criminals.”
According to the original WeHo staff report, Federal law enforcement officials paint Mr. Kramer “as a modern marijuana mobster, with the FBI and DEA still following the money trail.
“DEA Southern California chief Patrick Kelly says he has financial evidence showing that, since 2006, in excess of $2.25 million in marijuana-derived money have been seized from Mr. Kramer by the federal government, including one $1.25 million seizure in 2011.”
That information discloses the high stakes in the California medical marijuana game. If the feds have seized well over $2 million from him, how much has he still that they haven’t found?
Enough, apparently, to begin working on an expansion of his international drug empire.
That expansion included Brazil, where DEA agents believe he was bent on, if not already, farming marijuana there. In addition, the DEA said at the time, “[Mr.] Kramer also directed and/or is involved in the distribution of marijuana to other areas of the United States, including New Jersey, South Carolina, and North Carolina.”
Yet, besides Zen Healing Collective members voting to remove Andrew Kramer from the board of directors and promises that Mr. Kramer is no longer involved in the operations or governance of the Collective, nothing else has been done to hold the collective to account.
In fact, little was known here in WeHo about the collective’s operations and set-up; staff said they had been no evidence to demonstrate that the corporation was real or if the “licensed corporate entity and Mr. Kramer were anything other than alter egos.”
And there was still those statements made by federal lawmen niggling in Mr. Aubel’s brain.
U.S. Attorney Kelly had estimated that Mr. Kramer had squirrelled away millions before his arrest, saying, “As a likely result of multiple monetary seizures by law enforcement during the last several years and his arrest in April 2013 on arson and attempted murder related charges being currently prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, [Mr.] Kramer has taken several measures to hide the existence of his assets with the use of family members, businesses, and in and out of state corporations.”
Still operating at 8464 Santa Monica Boulevard, the supposedly non-profit medical marijuana dispensary, those left behind and brought in to manage and operate the business hoped to save it by demonstrating that none of the money collected there found its way to Andrew Kramer.
Jeffrey Aubel and staff completed the investigation and found that the separation was complete, that a firewall had been erected and the board of directors had found sound, responsible operators.
However, “Zen Healing Collective operated in a manner that violated the West Hollywood Business License Ordinance by failing to have a licensed manager on the premises, no POST certified security guard on the premises, and denied entry to code compliance officers as required by law,” said the resolution passed by the commission.
With that, the commission suspended the dispensary’s license for 14 days, implement a 365 day probationary period and place the following operating conditions on the specific under which the dispensary operates, no matter who is at the helm.
1. An additional POST certified security guard shall be positioned in the rear parking lot during all business hours. The security guard shall prevent patients from medicating on the property and remind patients to keep noise down while using the parking lot.
2. The Collective shall not deny access to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department or West Hollywood Code Compliance Officers at any time.
3. The Collective shall conduct neighborhood meetings every quarter to ensure that the neighbors’ concerns are addressed.
4. The Collective shall place a sign at the front and rear of the building listing the name and phone number of a Collective manager that is available to field complaints. All calls shall be answered the same business day they are received or the following business day if the call is received after closing.
Neighbors of the collective, angry over nuisance issues, still want revocation. They, or anyone else, have 15 days to appeal.