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An applicant has filed an ATC lawsuit against a politically connected law firm and the Multi-State Operator (MSO) Verano Holdings for reneging on a deal related to the 2018 ATC round.

The plaintiffs Joseph Wolfe, Ronald Romano, Nicholas Campanella, and their firm Fresh Harvest Group LLC want $14 million.

The DeCotiis, Fitzgerald, & Cole law firm, Managing Partner Joseph DeCotiis, and Partner Arlene Q. Perez claim because there was no contract, they were not clients while Harvest Group says that the deal stemmed from a friendship and a proper attorney-client relationship existed after many meetings were held, emails were sent, and calls were exchanged. The plaintiffs say the absence of a formal contract does not mean they were not in fact clients.

According to the ATC lawsuit, Joseph Wolfe said he was an old friend of DeCotiis, and their sons spent time together. In fact, he had previously referred clients to him. Wolfe told him he wanted an Alternative Treatment Center (ATC) license. DeCotiis assured him that he was sufficiently politically connected to make this happen, as was Arlene Perez whom he brought in to assist.

Perez is the Chair of the Hunterdon Democratic Committee. According to his company profile, among other positions, Joseph DeCotiis was a DNC and NJ State Democratic Committeeman.

ATC Lawsuit Details

The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs introduced the Multi-State Operator (MSO) Verano Holdings to DeCotiis. They then dumped them in favor of Verano. They were initially brought in because Fresh Harvest Group thought that it would help their application.

In one phone conversation, the ATC lawsuit says Verano’s officers suggested in lieu of payment DeCotiis would receive stock.

“Count us in, partner,” DeCotiis is alleged to have said.

The ATC lawsuit alleges it became apparent that the law firm would use its political connections to secure a license. Then Verano suggested they might give the Fresh Harvest Group partners a percentage for introducing them to DeCotiis and Perez. However, that never materialized.

The DeCotiis firm says because they did not sign an actual contract with Wolfe and Fresh Harvest and merely discussed working together, they are not legally liable. And because they were not clients, they did not take the necessary steps to make sure there was no conflict of interest.

The plaintiffs have retained Joshua Bauchner who is also the lawyer for the ATC applicant lawsuits for 2018 and 2019. Those lawsuits have been held up by the Coronavirus pandemic shutdown. And the NJDOH seems unwilling to negotiate.

Bauchner maintains that the many phone calls, emails, and meetings all point to a relationship that under the law in New Jersey can be defined as a proper attorney-client relationship. And he is confident his evidence will prove the case.

“We look forward to our day in court,” Bauchner said.

Verano Holdings did indeed secure their license in the 2018 license round. In fact, they recently were issued their permit to grow by the NJ Department of Health and will likely open their doors later this year.

Pattern of Behavior

It has come up that one of the plaintiffs is involved in a company accused of selling masks to cope with COVID-19 at an exorbitant price. Bauchner said that a bid was submitted at a normal price prior to the start of the pandemic. Then it was rejected. He said no litigation has occurred and it is not germane to their case.

Apparently, this is not the first time Verano Holdings has taken advantage of a smaller company by leading them on. There is a lawsuit against them in Nevada in Naturex, LLC et al. v. Verano Holdings, LLC, et al. Naturex is seeking $135 million in damages.

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Dan Ulloa
Dan Ulloa is the Editor and Publisher of Heady NJ, with a background in politics, journalism, and a passion for the cannabis community. He curates and publishes news, events, and insights on the industry. Dan has been a leading voice in the New Jersey cannabis scene, educating and informing the public about this rapidly evolving industry. He ranked #35 on the INSIDER NJ Cannabis Power List out of 100 in 2022.