Two men working to open a compassion center as Delaware's first medical marijuana dispensary now have no compassion for each other.
Long-time Lewes resident and former Lewes Councilman A. Judson Bennett filed a 27-page lawsuit June 17 against former state trooper and lobbyist Mark Lally, saying Lally breached a contract by working for another group seeking the state contract that would allow them to operate the dispensary.
“What he's done is unethical,” said Bennett during an interview June 19. “I'm disappointed in Mark Lally. I thought we were friends. Everything that he learned, gleaned, his whole interest in medical marijuana has been payed for by me.”
Bennett said he became interested in opening a compassion center after his wife of 33 years, Maria, died of breast cancer, suffering terribly at the end of her life. Marijuana, said Bennett, would have helped a lot. The compassion center gave him a reason to live, he said.
“My wife was dead, but I was going to be doing good for others,” he said.
In 2011, the General Assembly passed the state's medical marijuana law, but its implementation has been delayed because of concerns over federal intervention. Under state law, vendors can grow up to 150 plants at once and stock up to 1,500 ounces of medical marijuana.
The lawsuit claims that Bennett and his partner, Florida-based attorney Jeff Siskind, entered into an agreement with Lally in October 2011 to act on behalf of their compassion center Delaware Compassionate Care Inc. The agreement required Lally to refrain from representing any other competing parties, the lawsuit says. Documents show Lally was paid $25,000 for his services.
Lally came highly recommended, said Bennett, and he was quite an asset through the process. Bennett said that having former police officers associated with a group trying to open a compassion center has been well received in other states across the country.
Lally and Bennett entered into a similar agreement in January 2013 after the governor suspended the implementation of the program in December 2012. This agreement called for Lally to be paid $1,000 a month for six months or until a license was obtained, and an option for him to become a 10 percent partner.
Lally, a former Sussex County representative for Sen. Tom Carper, said his attorney has advised him to not speak on the pending litigation.
First State Compassion Center Inc. is the company Lally went to work for and is also named in the lawsuit.
The suit says First State Compassion was formed Jan. 30, 2014 by Jon Levine, a partner of Massachusetts-based Sigal Consulting LLC. The firm specializes in licensing and developing medical marijuana facilities, including the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, R.I.
The company denies the claims made by Bennett in a written statement released June 18.
“None of these claims will be substantiated by the facts,” reads the release. “Mr. Bennett and his partner, attorney Jeffrey Siskind, are trying to create havoc in the press from their homes in Palm Beach, Florida.”
The compassion center is a Delaware-based organization, said the statement released by First State, run by Delaware residents with state missions for the benefit of patients in Delaware.
“Any notion of an out-of-state entity having control of the organization is absurd. We will vigorously defend this matter in the Court of Chancery,” said the statement.
The lawsuit says that Lally informed the plaintiffs that he had been contacted by Sigal Consulting, who had inquired about forming a partnership. Partnership talks went as far as developing a proposal for sharing profits, but in the end, discussions failed.
“Upon hearing of the failed negotiations, Lally moved quickly to try and distance himself from the plaintiffs presumably to work with Sigal Consulting and submitting a competing bid,” reads the lawsuit.
The judge is going to decide if a contract is valid or not when a person signs it, said Bennett.
“This has been my whole focus for several years,” said Bennett. “This is what he did, and it's wrong.”
The goal, said Bennett, is to get all his money back and to prevent Lally from moving forward on the state-issued contract.
Bennett said Lally assumed there would be little risk for violating the contract.
“Jud Bennett is not that type of guy. I'm a great friend, but a better enemy,” said Bennett. “This is supposed to be our deal and he f***ed me basically.”
The state is expected to announce who will be awarded the contract by the end of the month.