Texas Ag Commissioner’s political consultant charged with theft and bribery in connection with hemp licensing scheme

Todd Smith, a top policy consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, was indicted on Tuesday on charges of theft and commercial bribery related to taking money in exchange for state hemp licenses distributed through Miller’s office, according to Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza. .

Smith was arrested in May, charged with taking $55,000 in connection with the scheme, according to a warrant affidavit. Smith and others were charged with soliciting up to $150,000 to obtain an “exclusive” hemp license from the Texas Department of Agriculture. Smith reportedly said $25,000 would be used for a public poll on hemp. A state hemp license costs $100, according to the warrant.

“We hold accountable powerful actors who abuse the system and break the law,” Garza said. “Our community needs to know that no one is above the law and will face justice.”

Smith could not immediately be reached for comment, but his lawyers said in a statement that their client did not break any laws.

“We are disappointed that the Travis County District Attorney obtained an indictment against Todd Smith, he was not invited to address the grand jury. He is not guilty of these charges and has the intent to vigorously defend against the allegations of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office,” attorneys Sam Bassett and Perry Minton said in a statement.

The legislature legalized the production, manufacturing, and retail sale of hemp in 2019, opening the door to the rise of cannabidiol, or CBD, products. At the time of the alleged solicitations, the Texas Department of Agriculture was developing regulations for the emerging hemp industry.

The indictment comes as Miller seeks a third term as agriculture commissioner. Miller faces two Republican challengers in the March primary, State Representative James White, R-Hillister and Blinn College economics professor Carey Counsil.

Miller’s challengers have targeted him before, attempting to link him to Smith. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle earlier this month, Miller dismissed the allegations against Smith, who he still employs.

“It happens with every election. They know they won’t do anything to you, but the process is the penalty. All they need is a headline: Sid Miller’s political consultant under investigation for selling hemp licenses,” Miller told the Chronicle. “Well, they brought him in for questioning. They said okay, that was 8 months ago, they said we weren’t going to press charges and we weren’t charging you, so end of story, go ahead. But they made the headlines, so they bring up that old bullshit.

Miller on Tuesday night declined to comment immediately, saying he had just heard news of the indictment from the Tribune reporter. He later appeared on conservative radio host Chad Hasty’s show and said he was going to review the indictment, but he’s ‘not ready to throw [Smith] under the bus” and is “not surprised”, suggesting that he is politically motivated. Miller says he still doesn’t believe Smith did anything wrong.

Smith has already come under scrutiny for his conduct and his ties to the Department of Agriculture. In 2018, the Austin American Statesman reported that Smith promised a San Antonio businessman a meeting with the Department of Agriculture in exchange for a $29,000 loan. And in 2016, Miller gave Smith’s wife a newly created assistant commissioner position, one of the highest-paying roles in the department.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/01/18/sid-miller-todd-smith-hemp-licenses-indicted-ag-department/.

Milton S. Rodgers