Attorney charged in pot union bribery case


An East Bay workers' compensation attorney who represents marijuana dispensary operators intends to plead guilty to charges he illegally paid kickbacks to a former labor union official, court records show.

The attorney, Marc Terbeek, was charged in U.S. District Court in Oakland with illegally making a payment to a union employee and structuring financial transactions. 

According to court documents, between 2010 and 2015, Terbeek paid money to "D.R." in exchange for having business improperly steered to him. The initials refer to Daniel Rush, who was at the time the organizing coordinator of the cannabis division of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Terbeek was named in a document known as an information, which in federal court typically signifies that a defendant intends to plead guilty in a case. Court records confirm Terbeek intends to change his plea on Thursday.

Terbeek did not respond to a request for comment. But in a declaration filed in court, Terbeek blamed Rush, saying Rush "began to pressure me to compensate him for facilitating the referrals. I resisted this pressure initially, but eventually I surrendered to this pressure, which included verbal and emotional abuse as well as threats of violence."

Terbeek's attorney, Ed Swanson said, "Mr. Terbeek has been fully cooperative with the government’s investigation of this case.  He regrets his actions and accepts full responsibility for his conduct."

Rush was charged in 2015 in federal court with honest-services fraud and accepting payments in violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, which restricts the activities and power of labor unions. Rush's trial is set to begin in March.

Investigators said Rush tried to expand his union’s presence in the medical marijuana industry, including unionizing dispensary workers.

But instead of working on behalf of the union and the institute, Rush "accepted money in exchange for his actions and influence as a UFCW union official," the criminal complaint says.

Authorities say the scheme, in part, involved "benefits and money from a marijuana business being structured and laundered by Rush and Terbeek for Rush's benefit."

Court documents say Terbeek began cooperating with federal investigators after his then-office in Oakland's Fruitvale District was raided by the FBI and IRS agents.

"Terbeek is cooperating with the FBI investigation for the purpose of mitigating his culpability and reducing his ultimate sentence," according to sworn affidavit by FBI Agent Roahn Wynar.

Agents reviewed bank statements, secretly recorded phone conversations and testimony by witnesses cooperating with the agency, authorities said.

Terbeek admitted to the FBI that he "has been paying kickbacks to Rush since approximately 2004," Wynar wrote.

Terbeek also gave Rush a credit card associated with his law firm, and Terbeek "paid off this card routinely," the affidavit says. From 2010 to 2015, Rush charged about $110,000 on Terbeek's card, an average of about $2,000 a month, authorities said.

In support of the structuring charge, agents obtained bank records showing that Terbeek made 40 deposits to his client account at Wells Fargo Bank that were each less than $10,000, to allegedly avoid scrutiny by the bank.