A sprawling lawsuit in San Luis Obispo County over the alleged misuse of millions of dollars pits William Szymczak, former division leader at federal Housing and Urban Development, against Helios Dayspring, founder of the Natural Healing Center cannabis dispensary in Grover Beach. Dayspring, who went into business with Szymczak in 2018, also happens to own 400 acres in Santa Barbara County for which he was pursuing five permits to grow cannabis.
Known to his friends as “Bobby,” Dayspring reportedly owns three cannabis shops and multiple grow sites in San Luis Obispo County and has access to 11 of S.L.O. County’s 144 cannabis land-use permits. He and Szymczak became partners when Szymczak plonked $17 million into the next big thing. The resulting lawsuit, however, lands in Superior Court on October 21 as a demand to remove the businesses from Dayspring’s control and put them in the hands of a receiver to manage.
It’s a complicated empire: The caption for the lawsuit lists 30 plaintiffs and defendants, most of them limited liability companies owned by either Szymczak or Dayspring. Another of Dayspring’s entities — Orcutt Holdings LLC — bought the market in Orcutt’s Old Town, reportedly the only market in the area, evicting the tenants to make space for a future cannabis store and causing a furor in the small community. Whether Dayspring will get one of the six retail permits to be issued in Santa Barbara County is sheer speculation, as the merit-based competition won’t be decided until sometime in 2021.
Szymczak accuses Dayspring of spending his money on projects in which Szymczak had no financial interest, using his funds to fight the IRS and the FBI for what are described as “entanglements,” and taking advantage of an elderly person. Dayspring’s answering papers charge that Szymczak was a frequent visitor to Dayspring’s home and knew about the other businesses, including the tax payments, and exhibit an email from Szymczak itemizing his percentages in some of the holdings. They also mention $30,000 in “donations” to unspecified causes.
Although Szymczak is 81 years old, the company’s financial officer called him “a sophisticated business person.” Szymczak was the director of Housing Development for HUD from Presidents Nixon through Reagan and currently heads an affordable housing group called Preservation Partners Development.
One dispute revolves around the $2 million Szymczak invested in Dayspring’s hemp farm. The money was lost, Szymczak claimed, because Dayspring bought and planted the wrong seeds. Dayspring argued Szymczak agreed to harvest hemp seed, which had the highest value among hemp products at the beginning of the season, but the bottom fell out of the market when California imposed new restrictions on hemp in 2019.
“It’s called farming,” Dayspring wrote of the losses.
As for his cannabis permits in Santa Barbara County, Dayspring lost four of them when the Board of Supervisors outlawed cannabis grows in Existing Developed Rural Neighborhoods, or EDRNs, this summer. Those grows are slated for removal by December 15, 2020, according to the planning department. Most of his 400 acres were bought in late 2016 or 2018, undeveloped land that is valued at $680,681 by the county assessor’s office.
Dayspring’s remaining farm, on Autumn Road outside Santa Maria, occupies two parcels that total 160 acres. The property was dinged twice for permit violations: one for enlarging the grow, which was fixed, and another for a series of unpermitted building. The permit application envisions 12 acres of cannabis grown in hoop houses, 31 water tanks holding 74,500 gallons to augment the two agricultural wells onsite, and six weeks of harvest in the spring and fall.
[Update: Oct. 21, 2020] A ruling from San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Tana Coates went against Szymczak on October 21. Though “Mr. Dayspring had the know-how in the cannabis industry, and Mr. Szymczak had the capital,” Judge Coates wrote, the plaintiffs were basically dissatisfied with how Dayspring was running the company. Such a claim could seek money damages for any harm, but the facts of the matter were yet to be determined. Coates denied the request for a receiver and injunctive relief.
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