And you thought the Sunset Super Shop was gone…
For nearly a week, people have been wondering what connection existed between last week’s raids on two West Hollywood non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries and a now supposedly defunct for-profit drug sales retailer that the city has been trying for years to shut down. Yet an investigation by WeHo News shows that connection to be a tight one – and perhaps even causative.
When Beverly Hills police led a multi-agency raid on Zen Healing and Alternative Herbal Healing Services last Tuesday, they sought evidence relating to Andrew Kramer, who had once owned the West Hollywood Center for Compassionate Healing on Sunset Boulevard.
Back in 2009, Andrew Kramer shut down the West Hollywood Center for Compassionate Healing, notifying the city of the closure in a letter. However, the property owners, George and Nancee Lanning with their son Justin managing the shop, continued to operate a medical marijuana dispensary on the site without authorization from the city to do so.
Since then, West Hollywood officials have been trying to shut it down, using different code compliance and legislative remedies, but were compelled to take a civil action in state court to finally shut it down. That action, however, got stalled when the Lannings declared bankruptcy, a move that would have halted the city’s attempt to shutter them.
William Litvak, an attorney for the city of West Hollywood, told WeHo News, "The simple fact in the present case is that the defendants do not and did not have the proper authorization from the city to operate a facility where medical marijuana is dispensed," he said.
The city filed suit in May, 2010, to stop the Lannings from selling pot from an unlicensed business. The suit asked for injunctive relief, charging the Lannings with unfair business practices (four other medical marijuana dispensaries operate within the city limits legally) and municipal code violations, asking for penalties in the amount of $2,500 per day per violation.
The story has another side, however; an attorney working for the Lannings told WeHo News in 2011 that the Lannings saw the “city allying itself with Kramer to keep him in business and put them out of business. The Lannings claim to have bought the place in Dec. 2007 and kept and paid Kramer as consultant while he was being paid out, a customary practice in a transition.
“They released him after the $1 million debt was settled on or about July 16, 2008. On July 18, 2008, Kramer locks the Lannings out of the building and resumes operation of the club. The City stands by and allows Kramer to operate as though nothing had happened until he was evicted as a result of a court ruling in June, 2009. On April 29, 2009, the day that judge ruled in favor of the Lannings, Kramer delivers a letter officially closing Sunset Shop. Yet between April 29, 2009 and June 2009 when evicted, and despite his letter stating his intentions to the contrary, he sells marijuana from the Sunset Boulevard storefront,” he said.
That attorney for Sunset Shop, Michael Chernis, told WeHo News that the incidents of vandalism began soon after taking the shop over in June/July 2009 and have "ramped up" in the months since the shop won a final judgment against the shop's former owner.
Kimberly Jean Maybee, on August 9, 2010, allegedly lit and threw a firebomb at the Sunset Shop's (at 8919 Sunset Boulevard) front window "with intent to wrongfully injure and destroy property." Seven months later, another arsonist doused the property with gasoline and started a fire.
That incident led to the discovery of an illegal grow room for marijuana in the upstairs of the building – something expressly prohibited by law. The shop was closed by West Hollywood Building Inspector Steve Bailey when he uncovered unpermitted electrical work that he said posed "a significant safety hazard."
Said one operator at the time who spoke on condition of anonymity, “We all have to follow the rules; why don’t they? “They are not a not-profit dispensary as we all are, they are stealing our business, operating an illegal grow room and leave public safety hazards like fire bombings in their wake.”
Another arson incident took place at a property the Lannings own in West Hollywood at 370 N. San Vicente Boulevard. According to a source close to the affair, a transient who had been using the home while it underwent renovation was booted out and allegedly set fire to the unfinished structure in retaliation.
Consequently, while the city is still fighting it out in court with the Lannings,their bank foreclosed on the property and evicted them from it. Soon after the eviction WeHo News called the Lanning residence in Beverly Hills at 139 Le Doux Road (just above Wilshire) and, Nansee Lanning picked up. After our reporter identified himself as being from WeHo News she said, “I don’t know you.” She then asked, “How did you get my number?” When the reporter explained that the number and address were mtters of public record and he had a few questions to ask her about the Sunset Super Shop, she abruptly hung up.
This weekend, when we called Sunset Super Shop, George Lanning told WeHo News that the brick and mortar shop was still being renovated, but they kept their clients served by delivery to any municipality. The Sunset Super would “gladly deliver marijuana’ to us so long as we had a doctor’s recommendation and a California photo ID.” Upon further inquiry, he said, “There are no medical marijuana dispensaries in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Burbank or Glendale. There are only certain cities that will allow it. For right now, West Hollywood is the ‘open city’ so that’s where we are.”
After acquiring confirmation that Sunset Super Shop delivered pot inside WeHo, we broke of the conversation, however, a few minutes later Mr. Lanning called back from a number our office’s phone ID showed as “Nancee Lannings” – the same number we called to ostensibly place our order for pot, to ask who we were and why we called.
He declined to answer further questions.
NORML says on their site, “Although state law has no explicit provision for delivery services, they can be justified on the grounds that many patients lack transportation and cannot grow for themselves.” The marijuana activist site also cautions, “The best way to organize a delivery service is as a non-profit cooperative or collective. The management should be in the hands of the membership, not a single individual.”
Code compliance manager for the city of West Hollywood Jeff Aubel told WeHo News that delivering pot inside city limits is against the law, and he would follow up with local law enforcement on the subject.
Information continues to pile up that makes the arrests and raids look as though the Lannings somehow convinced Beverly Hills PD to see things through their peculiar prism as victims.
On Saturday, an anonymous caller rang into WeHo News to defend the Lannings. She would only identify herself as a "concerned citizen," saying that she was in communication with the Lannings, had counselled them on how to react to media reports and felt prompted to call to “correct the facts."
"You are tying the unbelievable criminal activity of Andrew Kramer into the Sunset Super Shop when they are the victims,” she said. “They are a victim of Andrew Kramer. You should go read the proceedings in court about the Sunset Super Shop and you will see it in a different light. You’re hurting their business…"
Late last week, a Beverly Hills police spokesperson told WeHo Patch that “Beverly Hills residents, landlords and dispensary owners were the victims of alleged "intimidation, arson and death threats.” Today, although he would not confirm nor deny that the complainants were the Lannings, BHPD Lt. Lincoln Hoshino expressed regret that he could not provide total transparency, “because you would be surprised at the mountain of evidence that has been collected in this case… It will all come out in court."
He also said that the arrests were a culmination of a four-year investigation into “some pretty significant charges.” He declined to provide any specifics or details; “We announced the arrest because we knew it would get some media attention,” he said. “Anything else we would give you might compromise the investigation; this thing is very far-reaching.”
Lt. Hoshino expressed ignorance about the Lannings alleged sale of marijuana from their Beverly Hills address. Upon looking at their marijuana delivery web site, though, he acknowledged that "someone should look into this."
He said that all but one of the incidences leading to criminal charges occurred in the cities of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, although the WeHo incidents were “investigated my LASD ‘majors’ out of Downtown, not the branch station.”
LASD’s major crimes bureau investigates “organized criminal enterprise groups, vice and morals investigations, cargo thefts, locating and apprehending criminals and fugitives, surveillance operations, crimes related to health care and illegal pharmaceuticals, extraditions, series and pattern robberies, and crimes involving imminent threat to the life of the victim such as solicitation for murder, kidnaping, Amber Alerts, and threats against government officials and Department members.”
At today's hearing, the connection between the Lannings and Mr. Kramer was laid bare. Mr. Kramer pleaded not guilty to 16 felony charges this morning. He is being held on a $7.025 million bail.
Four co-defendants in the case are listed as: