Central Coast Cannabis Kingpin Sentenced to 22 Months in Bribery Scandal

Helios Dayspring Owned Hundreds of Acres Throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties

Helios Dayspring abandoned large areas of hoop-house cultivation on his private property in the Los Padres, leaving a hard-packed surface that could create significant erosion during rains. | Credit: Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board

Central Coast cannabis kingpin Helios Raphael Dayspring — better known as “Bobby” — was named after the sun god of Greek mythology. But after being sentenced to 22 months behind bars last week by a federal judge for paying $32,000 in bribes to a San Luis Obispo County Supervisor over a period of three years, it would seem Dayspring should have been named instead after Icarus, another character out of Greek mythology, who plummeted to earth after flying too close to the sun.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Andrew André Birotte Jr. sentenced Dayspring — a larger-than-life cannabis grower who owned hundreds of acres throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and ran three dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County — to 22 months, the lowest sentence of the options available to him. The toughest option at Birotte’s discretion was 13 years. 

Last summer, Dayspring pleaded guilty to one count of bribery and one count of income tax evasion. From 2016 to 2019, Dayspring paid S.L.O. Supervisor Adam Hill — a passionate if abrasively outspoken champion of the underdog on the dais — $29,000 in cash and $3,000 in money order payments in exchange for Hill’s vote to keep Dayspring’s operations exempt from a county moratorium on new cultivation permits. In addition, Hill — who once worked for former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley — voted to keep new operations that might compete with Dayspring’s from gaining a toehold in San Luis Obispo. Shortly after federal agents raided Supervisor Hill’s home in March 2020, Hill attempted suicide. A few months later, he tried again and succeeded just three days after being sued for sexual misconduct by his administrative assistant.

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According to court records, Dayspring also confessed to trying to bribe John Shoals, then mayor of Grover Beach, for his support in helping Dayspring secure two dispensary licenses. Shoals did not accept the payment. In addition, Dayspring was sentenced for underreporting his income to the tune of $9 million to the IRS and shorting the government $3.4 million in tax payments. 

While all the offenses for which he was sentenced occurred in S.L.O. County, Dayspring was well-known in northern Santa Barbara County, where he operated several industrial-scale cannabis operations off the steep and winding road that wends through the bucolic paradise of Tepusquet Canyon. Residents there had been complaining of Dayspring’s aggressive scofflaw methods — large trucks driving back and forth, night lights and night generators blaring forth, illegal grading, creek degradation, and cultivating in excess of permits — since 2015. It was Dayspring who mobilized the residents of his valley into continuous agitation in front of the Santa Barbara County supervisors, demanding relief and action. Ultimately, the county supervisors would lower the boom on Dayspring’s Santa Barbara operations and county inspectors would levy $35,000 in fines. But all that would happen only after the bribery scandal had been exposed.

Helios Dayspring, pictured here at a Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors cannabis hearing in 2017.

Dayspring’s supporters — friends, family members, employees, business partners — submitted many testimonials on his behalf, painting him as kind, courageous, and generous when it comes to animals and the less fortunate. Dayspring described himself as a poor child, the youngest of six kids and child of a single mom who never knew his father. Dayspring wrote that he learned to fish using a line tethered to a coat hanger, killed birds for food, and learned the value of hard work at an early age. Not a good student, he dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. Psychologically seared by his early abandonment, Dayspring wrote, he learned at an early age not to trust anyone whose loyalty couldn’t be bought and paid for. Over the past 15 years, Dayspring wrote, he focused all his considerable energy and talent “on building a business that was too big to fail.” 

In the end, he amassed an empire he valued at $30 million. 

He expressed responsibility and contrition for his transgressions, while at the same time blaming an unidentified attorney for leading him astray and into bribery. In the end, his efforts to secure the loyalty of politicians would do him in.

Dayspring argued he should be sentenced to three years of house arrest and probation, citing his weight gain — more than 300 pounds— and health concerns—Crohn’s disease — that had overtaken him in the past two years. He also cited his work as an informant and his willingness to wear a wire, noting that he’d been the recipient of at least one death threat. Federal prosecutors downplayed the value of Dayspring’s work as an informant, saying it had led to no new investigations or arrests. 

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