Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission member arraigned for extortion, taking bribes

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A member of the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission was arraigned in federal court Wednesday for allegedly taking bribes, laundering money and attempting extortion.

Oakland resident Daniel Rush, 54, who has served on the commission since 2011, was indicted on 15 counts, including illegal payment to a union employee, honest services fraud, attempted extortion under color of law, conspiracy and money laundering by concealment.

Rush, a former United Food and Commercial Workers union official, was arrested Aug. 11 after a federal criminal complaint was filed against him one day earlier. At his arraignment Wednesday, he plead not guilty to all charges.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington originally appointed Rush to the commission, which features eight other members appointed by their district’s City Council member and the mayor. Despite the allegations, Rush has retained his position as an MCC commissioner, but he will be “recused from discussing or voting” in the commission’s upcoming selection of authorizing another dispensary because of his union connections, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

According to Charles Pappas, the current MCC chair who worked with Rush for years, Rush was the commission’s chair in 2011, and he had significant input in formulating the process that prospective dispensaries would have to undergo to qualify as Berkeley’s fourth legal dispensary.

Pappas said he never had reason to suspect misconduct from his colleague Rush.

“When I read the original article (about the charges brought against Rush), I felt like I was reading the Onion,” he said. “But, you know, I believe it now.”

Only Worthington has the power to dismiss Rush from the commission, but Worthington said he has no plans to fire the commissioner until he is vetted by the legal process.

“I firmly believe in the American justice system … (and) innocent until proven guilty,” Worthington said.

If convicted of all 15 counts, Rush could face a maximum term of imprisonment of 70 years, a maximum term of supervised release of 15 years and approximately $1.3 million in fines.

Rush was charged with attempted extortion under color of law for using his position and influence on the MCC to demand a “well-compensated” position with a prospective medical marijuana dispensary, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. He was also charged with violating legal duties to the UFCW by allegedly accepting kickbacks from an attorney, Marc Terbeek, in exchange for client referrals.

In a statement released Sept. 17 regarding Rush’s indictment, the Department of Justice reported that Terbeek agreed in an affidavit to plead guilty to offenses related to the charges brought against Rush.

Rush is next scheduled to appear in court for a status conference Sept. 28, at which a trial date could be determined.

Contact Laurel Bard, Maya Eliahou and Emma Soldon at [email protected].