Butler County marijuana farm investors are diverse lot

ResponsibleOhio staff

ResponsibleOhio has 16 paid staff members, led by Ian James, the organization’s executive director and co-owner of the Strategy Network, a firm specializing in signature collection for political campaigns.

Others on the team include:

  • Denny Wojtanowski, a consultant and former Democratic state lawmaker
  • Bob Clegg, a media buyer for Midwest Communications
  • Neil Clark, a Republican political consultant and former Ohio Senate clerk
  • Chris Stock, a Cincinnati attorney who formerly worked for Attorney General Jim Petro
  • Dennis Willard, a former journalist now with Democrat Ted Strickland's campaign for U.S. Senate.
  • Stephen Letourneau, a partner in the Strategy Network
  • Jim Kitchens, who heads a public-opinion research firm
  • Duane Baughman, a direct-mail-company executive
  • Robert Kish, of Third Wave Communications, a Columbus media and communications firm

There are also a number of attorneys on the team, including:

  • Larry James, a Columbus-based criminal attorney
  • Andy Douglas, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice
  • Don McTigue, a Columbus-based attorey who's firm focuses on election, campaign finance, political and public law

At least 24 known investors could transform into marijuana moguls if Issue 3 passes and Issue 2 fails on Election Day in November.

These investors have bought into ResponsibleOhio’s plan that establishes 10 commercial marijuana grow sites across the state, including three in Southwest Ohio: Butler, Clermont and Hamilton counties. And just like the investors in other parts of the state, those in this corner of Ohio are diverse. Investors include a former NBA legend, two relatives of a former president and governor and a New York fashion designer.

If marijuana legalization is approved by voters on Nov. 3, investors will collectively spend hundreds of millions to build enclosed structures to grow marijuana for a business estimated by ResponsibleOhio to generate $1 billion a year. Those profits would be taxed with proceeds primarily going to local governments.

Curt Steiner, spokesman for Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, criticized the investor group.

“It’s a shame that a small number of wealthy individuals are trying to get richer by cementing themselves into the Ohio Constitution,” he said.

Here’s a county-by-county look at the grow sites, and those who are putting up at least $20 million to bankroll the marijuana legalization constitutional amendment.

Butler County

Butler County’s proposed marijuana grow farm would sit on 40-plus acres on two parcels of land in Middletown. It sits on Yankee and Todhunter roads, just north of the Monroe corporation line.

The investors for this site include: Nanette Lepore, a New York fashion designer and Ohio native; Barbara Gould, of Indian Hill, who is involved in NG Green Investments, which would own the Butler County farm; Paul Heldman, a former Kroger Co. attorney; and Woody Taft and Dudley Taft Jr., brothers whose great-great-granduncle is President William Howard Taft and whose cousin is former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

Lepore, a Youngstown native is the younger sister of Ohio Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown and sister-in-law of former Ohio Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, who offered unsuccessful marijuana-legalization legislation proposals in previous legislative sessions.

“This is an incredible opportunity for places like my hometown of Youngstown to generate significant dollars for things like road and bridge repair, which in turn will create thousands of needed jobs,” Lepore said in a statement.

Gould, a widow, has been a supporter of the arts, including the Cincinnati Ballet, and a contributor to candidates of both major political parties. Her late husband, Bill Motto, was the founder and former chairman of Meridian Bioscience. He died of cancer last year.

“He could have benefited from access to medical marijuana,” she said.

Heldman, a Cincinnati attorney, said he decided to invest because his son developed epilepsy a decade ago and could be helped by medical marijuana. He is a board member of CenterBank.

“Until we legalize marijuana in Ohio and throughout our country, rigorous scientific research into its applications will not be possible and thousands, perhaps millions, of people will suffer needlessly,” Heldman said in a statement.

Woody Taft is a private equity investor, vice president of development at Taft Broadcasting Co. and trustee of the Louise Taft Semple Foundation, a philanthropic arts group. Dudley Taft Jr. is a blues guitarist and graduate of the Berklee College of Music. He has several albums to his credit, including “Left for Dead” and “Skin and Bone.” He owns rock legend Peter Frampton’s former Indian Hill home and studio.

“It’s appalling that black Ohioans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white Ohioans, even though both groups use it equally, ” Dudley Taft Jr. said in a statement. “It is irresponsible to allow such an unjust system to continue.”

Clermont County

The Clermont County marijuana farm would sit on 13.3 acres that encompass two parcels in Union Twp. along Ohio 32 and Winding Creek Boulevard, which is about 20 miles due east of Cincinnati and 40 miles southeast of Middletown’s proposed grow site. Clermont County is just east of Cincinnati. The area listed is about three miles east of Interstate 275.

Frank “Bo” Wood is the the lone known investor in the Clermont County farm, which would operating as DGF LLC. Wood is chief executive officer of Secret Communications, a Cincinnati investment firm, and the former general manager and president of WEBN-FM radio in Cincinnati. He is also known as the father of Cincinnati’s annual Labor Day fireworks celebration on the Ohio River.

Wood has an economics degree from Harvard University and a law degree from the University of Chicago.

Hamilton County

Hamilton County’s farm would be on a 24.5-acre farm in Anderson Twp., less than 10 miles east of the Clermont County site and less than 40 miles from the Middletown site. The property is along Broadwell Road near U.S. 50.

Basketball Hall of Fame legend Oscar Robertson, and arguably the most high-profile investor, is chairman of Orchem, his Cincinnati-based special chemical-manufacturing company. He is also a former All-American basketball player at the University of Cincinnati.

“It’s a terrible feeling when you can’t help someone suffering from cancer or another debilitating medical condition — I know from personal experience, “

Robertson said in a statement. “But medical marijuana can give our loved ones relief. I’m part of ResponsibleOhio because I want to be part of making this change a reality.”

Frostee Lynn Rucker, a former Cincinnati Bengal and Cleveland Brown and current defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals, and William J. Foster, owner of the Cincinnati warehousing company A-1 Quality Logistical Solutions, are also investors in Hamilton County.

Investors for other locations, include:

Franklin County

  • Rick Kirk is a Columbus developer, president and chief executive officer of Hallmark Campus Communities, which owns residential apartment complexes near Ohio State, Kent State and Ohio universities, among others. He is funding the site on Seeds Road in Grove City, south of I-71 and north of Zuber Road. Kirk is one of two investors known to have sold shares of his investment to other people. He reported six investors in his company, each contributing $300,000, according to a July 30 filing with the SEC.

Licking County

  • Dr. Suresh Gupta, a Dayton anesthesiologist and pain-management physician, owns the growing site in Pataskala. He said he plans to devote 90 percent of his property to cultivating marijuana for medicinal purposes. Gupta was charged with five counts of gross sexual imposition in 2008 but was found not guilty on all charges. He has been named in several civil malpractice suits but has not lost any cases nor paid damages, ResponsibleOhio officials said.
  • Sir Alan Mooney, who has three decades in the investment business, added "Sir" to his name in 2007 when he was knighted by Pope Benedict XVI as a member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, a ceremonial order of the Roman Catholic Church dating from the Crusades. He has a minister's license in Ohio.

Delaware County

  • Jennifer Doering is an investor in a 25-acre site on U.S. 42, which abuts the Delaware city limits in Concord Twp. She is the general manager with Chas. Seligman Distributing Co., a Walton, Ky., beer and wine distributor.

Lorain County

  • Bobby George is managing member of Corporate Management Group of Lakeside, a restaurant, real-estate and private-equity firm. George's group runs several restaurants, including Harry Buffalo in Elyria and Barley House in Cleveland. Townhall, one of George's Cleveland restaurants, coincidentally hosted a "welcome rally" for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, an opponent of marijuana legalization.
  • David Bruno, of Wellsville, owns Sterling China USA and other companies.
  • Tony Giardini is an attorney who previously worked on failed efforts to bring casino gambling to Lorain County.

Lucas County

  • David Bastos is a Cincinnati real-estate developer and partner with Capital Investment Group Inc.

Stark County

  • Ben Kovler, a Chicago investment banker, created a business called Green Thumb Industries to sell lighting, fertilizers and other items to marijuana-growing farms in Illinois, where medical marijuana is legal. He also sold shares in his investment in Alliance, Ohio, to 23 investors, SEC records show.
  • Brian Kessler, the son of the man who patented the Hula-Hoop, is president of Maui Toys Inc., of Youngstown, one of the world's largest toy manufacturers.

Summit County

  • Nick Lachey, a member of the boy band 98 Degrees, is one of Cincinnati's most famous residents. He is the ex-husband of singer/actress Jessica Simpson, with whom he filmed the reality-TV series "Newlyweds." Lachey has also been a TV host on VH1 and is part-owner of minor-league basketball and baseball teams.
  • John Humphrey, of Texarkana, Texas, is involved in the payday-loan business as part-owner of CashMAX. He is chief financial officer of DMP Investments, a firm specializing in consumer finance.
  • William "Cheney" Pruett is president and chief executive officer of DMP Investments. His father, Dwight Pruett, is also an investor.
  • Keith Orr, a friend of the Pruetts, owns auto dealerships in Louisiana and Texas.

About the Author