During the trial of Tallahassee businessman J.T. Burnette, who has been found guilty of five public corruption charges, a secret audio recording was played for jurors where Burnette bragged about how a political relationship led to his then-girlfriend, Kim Rivers, acquiring a vertically integrated license to operate Trulieve in Florida.

Trulieve was one of the first medical cannabis dispensaries in Florida growing to now 85 stores and a total of 90 stores nationally. On their website, they claim to have 48 percent of Florida’s “seed-to-sale” operation.

Rivers is now Burnette’s wife and is Trulieve’s CEO.

On the tape, Burnette claims to have worked with embattled former State Rep. Halsey Beshears, a Republican, in 2014 to add “little tweaks” to the criteria for companies seeking medical marijuana licenses. The changes they made to the medical marijuana legislation, which guided the medical cannabis industry’s implementation, ensured very few competitors would be able to operate in Florida.

The Capitolist describes how Burnette and Rivers said they did not know much about the medical marijuana industry but understood it could be a lucrative venture.

“The reality is I was kind of bragging about something that happened before my time,” Burnette said when asked about the recording during his trial.

In 2019, Rivers was appointed to the newly established Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee. The committee was created by recently elected Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has a financial stake in Harvest Health & Recreation Inc. Harvest Health was bought out by Rivers’ Trulieve in May.

Fried worked as a medical marijuana lobbyist for years before she became agriculture commissioner and became close friends with then-State Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Currently serving on the board of directors at Trulieve is Thad Beshears, Halsey Beshears’ brother, who worked with Rivers to acquire the license in 2014.

Halsey Beshears resigned from his post as Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in January citing health issues. Beshears’ name was also added to a subpoena list in connection with the Matt Gaetz sex trafficking probe.

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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at the Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Trulieve Store” by Trulieve.