OAKLAND -- One of Oakland's highest-profile cannabis entrepreneurs is scheduled to be arraigned on 13 felony counts for allegedly pocketing city grant money that was to be used for upgrades at four of his properties.
In a complaint filed Thursday, the Alameda County District Attorney's office accused Dharminder "Dhar" Mann of submitting 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.' "
The city paid Mann $44,000 based on the fraudulent checks.
Mann, 27, owns several businesses including weGrow, a hydroponics store that he wants to turn into a nationwide chain. His parents own Friendly Cab -- Oakland's largest taxi company -- and both they and Mann are frequent contributors to city politicians, including Councilwoman Desley Brooks, whom he charged $30 to host her 2010 re-election campaign website.
The four properties cited by prosecutors belong to Mann's real estate venture MannEdge Properties.
Mann's attorney John Runfola said in a statement that Mann was discouraged with the city's bureaucracy and "admittedly took shortcuts" to complete the reimbursement process but has been cooperating with the investigation for three years.
"It is unfortunate that the district attorney's office is prosecuting this young businessman instead of continuing the dialogue," he wrote.
Mann's first weGrow store, formerly iGrow, in East Oakland closed last year after several contractors filed civil claims saying they hadn't been paid.
Prosecutors are charging Mann with multiple counts of grand theft and offering forged documents as well as a single count of forgery.
At a property on 70 Hegenberger Loop, where Mann ran the weGrow store, prosecutors wrote that Mann in 2009 had a contract with Berumen Construction to complete $48,500 worth of facade improvements under a city grant program.
Mann later renegotiated the price to $12,000, prosecutors wrote, but never informed the city.
According to prosecutors, Mann included copies of checks including cashier's checks for $16,750 made out to Berumen to the city for reimbursement. But instead of sending the checks to Berumen, he redeposited those checks into his own account.
Berumen filed a complaint with 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.
"Fraudulent activity will not be tolerated by the City of Oakland," City Auditor Courtney Ruby said in a statement. "We applaud the District Attorney's Office for its role in ensuring this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.