Texas Rangers arrested the top political aide for Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Thursday, charging him with defrauding would-be investors in the state’s growing hemp industry.
Todd Smith, a longtime lobbyist and conservative activist, allegedly solicited cash from at least five people in exchange for early access to a hemp license.
Separately, he pitched each of the people he solicited money from that they could get one of just a few licenses to grow hemp issued by the Texas Department of Agriculture. But, he said, it would cost them at least $25,000, to be paid to Smith himself.
Smith’s alleged scheme was built on a lie though. Instead of doling out just a few licenses, the department encouraged producers to sign up. The Texas Department of Agriculture has issued over 1,000 hemp licenses since 2019, when hemp became legal to grow in Texas again.
None of the people who gave cash to Smith, or an associate of his, Keenan Lopez Williams, received early access to a license. In some cases, they lost thousands of dollars in return for nothing.
The Texas Department of Agriculture has not responded to requests for comment. On Sunday, attorney’s for Smith issued a statement which reads in part, “Todd never violated any laws and did not steal anything from anyone.”
The arrest occurred on Thursday in Austin during a traffic stop in Travis County. Smith was released from the Travis County Jail early Friday. According to an affidavit filed by the Texas Rangers last month, Smith “engaged in a scheme to commit the offense of theft.”
Smith talked up a variety of ways in which the money would be used. He told some potential partners that he would use it to conduct a “hemp survey.” Others were told that it would be a campaign contribution — although the affidavit does not specify which campaign would get the funds.
After searching through Smith’s financial records and emails though, investigators found no evidence that Smith or Williams did anything with the money besides deposit it in their personal bank accounts.
Although Smith and Williams asked several people for money, only two gave them any: Andre Vinson and William ‘Bill’ Cavalier. Smith took $55,000 in the scheme, according to his arrest warrant. Williams took $77,500. Texas Standard left messages for Vinson, Williams, and Cavalier requesting comment. They did not immediately respond.
In February, Williams, a one-time Texas regional campaign director for President Trump, was arrested in Collin County on a warrant from the Rangers in Austin. Like Smith, he too was arrested on a theft charge. The Rangers’ affidavit says the two met in August 2019, two months after Gov. Greg Abbott would sign the hemp production bill into law.
“Williams had phone calls with Todd Smith, who communicated that getting a hemp license would take $25,000 upfront for a survey and the funding of campaigns for a total of $150,000,” Texas Ranger Brad Weatherford stated in his sworn affidavit on April 14 supporting an arrest warrant for Smith.
The Texas Department of Public Safety would not say whether more arrests will be made or whether Agriculture Commissioner Miller was involved in the scheme.
“No further details can be provided as this investigation is ongoing,” said Travis Considine, DPS spokesman.