For the past two years, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has gone to extremes to hide her ownership in a publicly-traded marijuana company. But the revelation of her controversial involvement raises new questions about how she secretly acquired the nearly $200,000 ownership stake in Harvest Health and Recreation, Inc., and how over the past year she managed to acquire another $190,000 in “personal effects” (such as furniture, jewelry, or other household items).
State law requires the disclosure of gifts or the source of income used to pay for the goods. Her state salary is less than $129,000 per year.
Fried’s 2019 Financial Disclosure, filed yesterday, reveal her net worth increased by about $48,000, from $1,401,000 to $1,449,000 over the past twelve months. That’s on top of a 416% increase from 2017 to 2018, when her net worth went from a quarter of a million dollars to $1.4 million in the immediate aftermath of winning the election for agriculture commissioner.
But the biggest question about the contents of her blind trust has finally been answered. Her ownership of the marijuana company remained secret from the public for at least 18 months because of previously filed financial disclosure documents that were vague, inaccurate, or incomplete. She was forced to file an amended disclosure earlier this year after The Capitolist broke the story that she had failed to disclose her lobbying income from 2018.
Prior to her election that year, Fried worked as a registered lobbyist, and her largest client, San Felasco Nurseries, was one of only a few authorized by the state to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Just weeks after her election as agriculture commissioner in November 2018, Harvest Health and Recreation bought San Felasco Nurseries for just over $60 million.
It is unclear how or if Fried benefited financially from that transaction. And that’s the problem, especially so because she oversees a substantial part of the state’s medical marijuana and hemp policy.
Fried never previously disclosed an ownership stake in San Felasco Nurseries, so the question of how she acquired hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in Harvest Health is not known. On her 2017 financial disclosure, she listed San Felasco as a major source of income, and claimed her lobbying company, Igniting Florida, LLC, had a value of $125,000. If Igniting Florida, LLC owned shares of San Felasco, she may have failed to disclose those shares as compensation on her previously filed lobbying reports.
The next year, she created a new company called Ignite Holdings, LLC, and claimed it was worth $360,000 without explaining how she acquired an asset worth that much money. The disclosure should have listed the acquisition of a $360,000 asset as income in some form.
Fried’s checking account also swelled over that same time span, jumping by $166,000 in only 12 months. Again, no explanation has ever been offered by Fried about the source of the cash.
This year, her checking account balances decreased by about $35,000 to $214,000 in cash, and Ignite Holdings, LLC is now valued at only $190,000 (a decline of about $170,000 over the year). But her personal effects jumped in value by a similar amount ($190,000). How she afforded the spending spree on personal items is not clear. Fried did not disclose any capital gains, losses, or other income from the sale of stock that might account for the cost of the items or the depreciation of the stock value (Harvest Health’s stock price has steadily declined over the past year and now trades at around $1 per share, down from over $9 per share in early 2019).
Fried’s office did not respond to an email seeking an explanation for how she acquired the stock or the personal items.
Last year, she also received a $700,000 house as a gift from Jake Bergmann, a marijuana executive and investor, whom she lives with in Tallahassee. Bergmann is married to another woman, making Fried’s acceptance of the house a likely ethics violation of the state’s gift ban law. Elected officials are prohibited from accepting gifts over $100 in value.
Bergmann also recently came under media scrutiny after Fried fired three political advisors who spoke up about Bergmann’s negative influence over Fried.