SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Trulieve Cannabis Corp. is suing two of its former Arizona purchasing managers, five other employees, and three vendors, accusing the group of perpetrating a million-dollar fraud that provided brands with premium shelf space in 21 dispensaries.
According to the civil racketeering lawsuit filed August 23 in Maricopa County Court, over a three-year period former employees Randall Uberecken and Daniel Hirchak funneled almost $1 million to companies the defendants formed to hide illicit kickbacks and bribes.
The kickback schemes
Harvest Health & Recreation hired Uberecken as a budtender in 2017. By 2022, he had worked his way up to senior purchasing manager, where he was responsible for making wholesale purchases from third parties to sell in Harvest’s retail dispensaries, which Trulieve acquired in 2021.
Harvest hired Hirchak as an assistant buyer in 2019. He worked his way up to procurement manager in 2022. In this role, he reported to Uberecken and also was responsible for making wholesale purchases from third parties to sell in Harvest shops.
“In 2020 or 2021, Uberecken and Hirchak developed a plan to receive kickback payments from third parties in exchange for having plaintiffs [Trulieve] purchase their products,” the lawsuit alleges. “Uberecken and Hirchak had the means, methods, and opportunities to carry out this plan because they controlled and decided which cannabis products plaintiffs purchased from third parties on a wholesale basis for sale in Harvest’s / Trulieve’s Arizona retail dispensaries.”
According to the lawsuit, YourWay Cannabis, which is also a defendant, artificially increased the wholesale price of its products in amounts Trulieve wouldn’t notice. Uberecken and Hirchak purchased the products on behalf of Trulieve and pocketed the artificial price difference.
In addition to the pricing scheme, the two also collected hundreds of thousands in monthly payments from third parties including Nature’s Wonder and Healing Resources, both defendants in the lawsuit, for fraudulent “consulting” services to ensure Trulieve would continue purchasing their products.
Shelf space is limited and highly valuable in Arizona. The state hosts only 143 licensed dispensaries, from which customers purchased $1.5 billion worth of cannabis products in 2022.
“The robust nature of Arizona’s retail cannabis market, combined with the limited number of available and open retail dispensaries, has created competition among entities and individuals to have their cannabis and cannabis products placed into licensed dispensaries for sale,” the complaint states. “This competition also fostered the environment in which defendants perpetrated their kickback scheme.”
Exposing the scheme
According to documents filed with the court, YourWay Chief Executive Officer Jacob Cohen, believing the company was about to push out, approached Trulieve about a possible job with the company in fall of 2022. During his meeting with a Trulieve representative, Cohen shared his knowledge about kickback payments made to Uberecken and Hirchak by check and cash.
YourWay tracked the payments through its financial records as “Harvest Commissions.” The company also maintained cash receipts for payments to Uberecken and Hirchak, who funneled money into bank accounts opened under shell companies called CTWWW and YDD. According to the complaint, Uberecken and Hirchak collected more than $500,000 in kickback payments from YourWay and two related companies.
The monthly “consulting” services allegedly began in early 2021, aligning with the time Uberecken and Hirchak formed CTWWW and YDD. Nature’s Wonder and Healing Resources, both defendants in the lawsuit, agreed to classify payments as consulting while knowing no legitimate services would be provided. Instead, the payments were made to ensure Trulieve would continue purchasing their products for sale in Harvest dispensaries.
After speaking with Cohen, Trulieve contacted Uberecken and Hirchak to request they return the illicit proceeds. Uberecken refused to cooperate, but Hirchak admitted he and Uberecken received monthly payments as part of the kickback schemes. “Hirchak has admitted that Nature’s Wonder paid him and/or YDD monthly payments in the total amount of approximately $100,000,” according to the complaint. He also admitted collecting around $50,000 from Healing Resources and payments from other parties.
Trulieve filed its lawsuit to recover the financial damages incurred as a result of the defendants’ “improper conduct and unlawful acts.”