Crime

Ag Commissioner Sid Miller Ditches Consultant Indicted Over Alleged Bribes for Hemp Licenses

Authorities say Todd Smith tried pulling others into the hemp license scheme, but was unsuccessful.
Authorities say Todd Smith tried pulling others into the hemp license scheme, but was unsuccessful. Kagenmi / iStock
A top political consultant for the state’s agriculture commissioner was indicted Tuesday on felony theft and bribery charges. Todd Smith, the consultant, was allegedly taking money in exchange for Texas hemp licenses.

Smith and others are accused of running a scheme in which they convinced farmers they needed to pay tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a license to grow hemp in the state.

Hemp was legalized federally in 2018. Texas followed suit the next year and the Department of Agriculture helped develop regulations for the hemp market. In reality, though, Texas hemp licenses only cost $100. Smith would allegedly tell the farmers they needed to pay $25,000 for a hemp survey, and spend $150,000 in payments to consultants and elected officials to get their licenses.

After handing down the indictment, Travis County District Attorney José Garza told The Texas Tribune: “We are holding accountable powerful actors who abuse the system and break the law. Our community needs to know that no one is above the law and will face justice.”

Sam Bassett, one of Smith’s attorneys, told the Observer in an emailed statement that his client is innocent.

“We are disappointed that the Travis County District Attorney has obtained an indictment against Todd Smith,” Bassett said. “He was not invited to address the grand jury. He is not guilty of these charges and intends to vigorously defend himself against the allegations made by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.”

Smith’s employer, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, had been reluctant to leave his side since he was arrested for the charges in May. Earlier this month, Miller told the Houston Chronicle he thought Smith’s arrest was political.

"He is not guilty of these charges and intends to vigorously defend himself against the allegations made by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.” – Sam Bassett, attorney

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“It happens every election. They know they’re not going to get you on anything, but the process is the penalty,” Miller said. “All they need is a headline: Sid Miller’s political consultant under investigation for selling hemp licenses. Well, they brought him in for questioning. They said OK, this was eight months ago, they said we’re not filing charges and we’re not indicting you, so end of the story, folks, move on. But they got the headlines, so they bring up that old crap.”

Even after the latest headlines this week about the indictment, Miller appeared hesitant to ditch his longtime consultant. Miller didn’t respond to the Observer’s request for comment. In a radio interview, he said he was reviewing the indictment, but suggested it was politically motivated and that he wasn’t ready to “throw [Smith] under the bus.”

His opponents moved quickly to hammer the agriculture commissioner for his ties to Smith, and Miller fired him.

In the primary race, Miller is up against two fellow Republicans, Carey Counsil and state Rep. James White. If he wins the primary, he'll face either Susan Hays and Ed Ireson, both Democrats, in the general election in November.

“Yesterday, Sid Miller denied his campaign consultant had anything to do with a scheme to shake down Texas farmers seeking licenses at the Texas Department of Agriculture," White said on Twitter. “Just hours later, it was revealed he had been indicted. Join me — let’s restore integrity to this agency!”

Hays, an attorney wrote on Twitter that she wasn’t surprised by the indictment. Hays said, “Corruption is bad for business. Vote.”

Miller cut ties with Smith late Wednesday.

Miller told The Texas Tribune: “Todd Smith and I have mutually agreed to terminate his association with my campaign effective immediately. My campaign and the [Texas Department of Agriculture] will cooperate fully with any agency involved in this matter so it can be resolved openly, fairly and judiciously.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn