TAMPA — A Lithia man raised $5.5 million from investors to acquire a Colorado marijuana business, but federal officials say he instead blew $3 million of it on personal debts, cash withdrawals, vintage cars, crypto-currency coins and strippers.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said 48-year-old Steven Lawrence Brickner raised funds from more than 60 investors for companies with names like FirstCanna Pharmaceuticals, FirstCanna Financial and High Country Healing. The business address for the FirstCanna companies was a mailbox at a UPS Store near Fishhawk Ranch, according to state records.
From 2015 to 2019, Brickner told investors he planned to generate significant profits for them by purchasing a Colorado-licensed marijuana dispensary network, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tampa. Their money would become “preferred shares” when his companies became listed for public trading through an initial public offering of stock.
“Brickner allegedly lured retail investors with false promises of an imminent (initial public offering) and significant future profits,” Eric I. Bustillo, director of the SEC’s Miami regional office, said in an announcement of the lawsuit.
Instead, federal regulators said, Brickner burned through more than half the money supporting a lavish personal lifestyle, spending:
• $1.2 million buying classic and luxury cars, including a 2013 Bentley, 2017 Corvette, 2017 Camaro, 1969 Camaro, two 1968 Camaros, a 1965 Corvette, two 1963 Corvettes, a 1957 Chevy and a 1970 Mach 1 Mustang.
• $580,000 on a loan to himself to pay off his mortgage.
• $286,000 in ATM and cash withdrawals.
• $465,000 to buy thousands of crypto-currency coins.
• $335,000 at “an adult entertainment establishment” in Tampa. Federal officials declined to say Tuesday which club Brickner patronized, saying that the business where he spent the money is not accused of doing anything illegal, nor would they say over what period of time this spending took place.
Brickner’s attorney in the case did not respond to a voicemail message and email from the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.
Brickner, however, did sign an agreement filed in federal court that he would not make any public statement denying the allegations. He also agreed to a court order requiring him to pay back a to-be-determined amount of ill-gotten gains and interest, plus a civil penalty.