On the morning of August 28, 2019, Todd Smith was running late for a meeting. It would be a busy few days for Smith, a lobbyist, and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s top political advisor.
He had to go to Houston later in the day, but this breakfast meeting was too important to skip. Before he left Austin, he stopped in at an I-HOP right off I-35, just a few miles from his home. He had a meeting with Nathaniel Czerwinski – a musician and activist who was, at the time, working at an Austin CBD shop.
At the time of their meeting, the Texas Agriculture Department was in the middle of crafting its regulations for hemp cultivation. After 88 years of prohibition, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana had become legal to grow once again in Texas earlier in 2019.
Czerwinski wanted to help write the regulations. He was told by a Texas Department of Agriculture employee named Richard Gill – who declined to comment for this story – that the best way to do that was to talk to Todd Smith.
According to Czerwinski, he and Smith met twice in Austin – once at a barbecue restaurant, and then at the I-HOP a couple weeks later. They talked about the future of hemp and marijuana in Texas, and how Czerwinski wanted to be involved in it. Smith could help with that.
“What Todd had tried to sell me is an idea that I could get to the front of the list for hemp farming,” Czerwinski said.
Arrest affidavits say that Smith said he could ensure that Czerwinski would be one of the very first people in the state to get a license to grow hemp – which he wanted to do.
All he had to do was pay Smith $25,000.
At the time, this seemed like a golden opportunity.
“Oh I thought it was a great idea at first,” Czerwinski said.
He got the impression that Smith was making this offer in coordination with Commissioner Miller.