OAKLAND -- The scion of a politically-connected Oakland family who aspired to make a national name for himself in the marijuana industry has pleaded no contest to five felony counts of defrauding the city.
Dharminder "Dhar" Mann, 29, will be sentenced next month in connection with pocketing city redevelopment funds he received to help fix up several of his properties.
Mann is not expected to receive jail time, said his attorney James Brosnahan of the law firm Morrison & Foerster. Brosnahan said that Judge Paul Delucci made clear during a hearing Friday that Mann would be sentenced five years probation and ordered to repay the city roughly $44,000 that he received via faulty claims.
The felony charges could be reduced to misdemeanors after Mann has completed probation, Brosnahan said.
Prosecutors refused to comment on the case before sentencing is completed.
Mann, whose drive to become a "ganjapreneur" landed him on the cover of Mother Jones in 2011, has deep roots in Oakland where his parents Surinder and Baljit Singh operate Friendly Cab, the city's largest taxi operator. The couple has been major political donors for years, and Mann quickly followed in their footsteps doling out contributions to city council members and mayoral candidates.
Mann owns a real estate company and a luxury car rental firm, but his big aspirations have been in cannabis. He is CEO of weGrow, a hydroponics store that he wants to turn into a nationwide chain.
Mann also had close ties to an outfit that sought a city permit to open a medical cannabis dispensary. Oakland gave tentative approval to the group last year, but withdrew it after the criminal charges were filed against Mann.
His legal trouble stems from four properties which qualified for an Oakland Redevelopment Agency program that reimbursed him for making building improvements.
Prosecutors wrote in court papers that Mann submitted copies of checks made out to contractors for city reimbursement without actually submitting the checks to the contractors. In several cases, prosecutors wrote, Mann "simply redeposited the checks to his bank account, writing on the back of the checks 'not used for intended purpose.'
Brosnahan said that Mann had made the building improvements required by the city program. "There were very serious problems with the paperwork," he said. "In the end it was appropriate for him to enter the plea. I think he's smart and he learns from this."
Prosecutors had originally charged Mann with 13 felony counts last year, but reduced that to five counts in August.
Mann is still facing a lawsuit from the city, which is seeking $230,000 in civil penalties and $135,000 in damages.
The felony convictions will likely limit Mann's ability to run cannabis dispensaries, but Brosnahan said that wasn't on his client's agenda anyway. "There are a lot of interesting businesses one can do that would not be impacted by this," he said.
Concerns about Mann's activities were disclosed by a contractor to the city auditor's Waste Fraud and Abuse hotline. The auditor's office investigated the accusation and brought its findings to the district attorney's office.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435