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February 2, 2024

Legal team of suspended cannabis chair says they were unaware of federal probe

A woman and a man stand in front of microphones Image | Courtesy of State House News Service Suspended Cannabis Control Commission Chairwoman Shannon O'Brien and her lawyer, Max Stern, spoke with reporters after a Dec. 14, 2023 hearing in Suffolk Superior Court.

An attorney for suspended Cannabis Control Commission Chair Shannon O'Brien said Thursday he is not aware of any federal investigation into his client and has not seen the subpoena that the Boston Globe reported Thursday had been sent to state officials in the fall by federal prosecutors seeking information on O'Brien.

The Globe report Thursday said the U.S. attorney's office's public corruption unit sent a subpoena in October seeking O'Brien's personnel records and the contents of her email account as part of a grand jury investigation. The Globe said the documents it obtained did not reveal the scope or target of the investigation.

"We are unaware of any investigation into Shannon O’Brien, nor do we believe there is any basis for one. Subpoenas like this are supposed to be private precisely in order to protect someone from being unfairly defamed. The media would be better to investigate who leaked the subpoena and why.  Chair O'Brien will not be deterred by a misplaced media story from pursuing her lawful right to be reinstated as Chair of the Commission," Max Stern, a lawyer at Todd & Weld who represents O'Brien in her lawsuit against Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, said in a statement Thursday. "From what we are told by the Globe, this subpoena - which we haven't seen - is focused on her prior relationship with a cannabis company that was disclosed before she was first appointed, thoroughly investigated and the topic was put to bed in September 2022."

Early in her short tenure as CCC chair, O'Brien found herself at the center of controversy involving her previous ties to two companies that the commission regulates. She was a one-time part-owner of Greenfield Greenery and the CCC opted in October 2022 (about a month into her tenure as chairwoman) to remand that company's license for further review because of questions surrounding O'Brien's past involvement. In January 2023, the CCC cleared her of any wrongdoing in the matter. O'Brien also served as a consultant to Charlemont Farmworks, another cannabis company.

Goldberg suspended O'Brien, a former state treasurer herself and the Democratic Party's 2002 nominee for governor, with pay in September after having appointed her to chair the CCC a year prior. Goldberg has given two justifications for O'Brien's suspension and possible firing: that the chairwoman is alleged to have made racially insensitive remarks and that she mistreated former CCC Executive Director Shawn Collins, a former Goldberg deputy.

O'Brien has denied the allegations against her and sued Goldberg, claiming unlawful removal. She most recently petitioned the Appeals Court to reverse a Superior Court ruling that cleared the way for Goldberg to hold the meeting that could lead to O'Brien's firing.

In his statement Thursday, Stern said he is "very troubled by the timing" of the Globe's story as it comes months after the subpoena was sent and "days after Chair O'Brien filed her brief in the Appeals Court laying out in detail the motives of the Treausurer [sic] for trying to remove Chair O'Brien and days after the Treasurer received an investigatory report that we believe exonerates Chair O'Brien."

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