Wearing a blue sports jacket and red stripped tie, a smiling Dylan Harrison mouthed “I love you” to his two tiny daughters in matching polka-dot dresses before pleading guilty Friday to making and distributing fake marijuana sold as “Mr. Nice Guy.”
The plea agreement that brought the 31-year-old Lantana man and his family to federal court underscored the depth, breadth and cash rewards of the operation that exploded into public view in May when its West Palm Beach warehouse blew up.
Besides prison time, prosecutors made it clear they wanted Harrison and his alleged partner, John Shealy, to turn over what they claim are the fruits of the illicit scheme.
Harrison, who faces a maximum of five years in prison when he is sentenced April 26, agreed to give up many luxury items. Gone is the house on Hypoluxo Island that records show he bought in March for $850,000 cash. As part of the deal, he also agreed to turn over at least $165,000, a GMC sport-utility vehicle and nine expensive watches.
Shealy, 40, of Royal Palm Beach, is expected to soon plead guilty to the same charge — conspiracy to defraud the United States by distributing a controlled substance. If he does, he will also take a hefty financial hit. Prosecutors are asking that he forfeit more than $2.2 million, eight watches and four vehicles, including a 2008 Land Rover and a 1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee.
Ian Goldstein, an attorney who represents Harrison, called the plea agreement a compromise. Harrison, who is partners with Shealy in several area kava bars, didn’t enter the faux marijuana trade with the intent of breaking the law, he said.
“My client consulted with attorneys and chemical labs throughout the entire process, in an attempt to ensure that his product did not contain any ‘banned substances,’ ” Goldstein said.”
Further, he said, the law is unsettled. Litigation is pending in courts around the country, challenging the government’s claims about the illegality of the chemical cocktail that mimics the effects of marijuana when it is spread over innocuous leaves and smoked. Any definitive ruling is years away.
“Based upon this uncertainty in the law, as well as the facts of this particular case, we felt that a plea agreement which greatly limited Mr. Harrison’s exposure was appropriate,” he said.
During the hearing, Harrison assured federal Judge Kenneth Marra that he was satisfied with the plea deal. He said he had been treated in the past for heroin and steroid addiction, but he said it didn’t affect his decision.
Records show he and Shealy were the consummate businessmen. They ordered chemicals from China. They attended trade shows in Las Vegas. A Mr. Nice Guy website offered convenient shipping to all 50 states.
The operation began to unravel when federal agents in January nabbed Joel Lester, 52, a Canadian who was living in Boca Raton, and charged him with selling fake pot. He led them to Harrison, Shealy and Mike Bryant, 30, of Delray Beach. Then, in May, the warehouse on Georgia Avenue exploded. In the wreckage, agents said, they found more clues.
Bryant, who in December pleaded guilty to distributing a controlled substance, was to be sentenced Friday. Prosecutors agreed to delay his sentencing to see whether Shealy pleads guilty. While Bryant faces a maximum 20 years in prison, he is expected to receive far less when he is sentenced April 4.
Like Harrison, Bryant left the courthouse after his hearing. But his departure was uneventful.
In contrast, Harrison was met by news crews. His father, former West Palm Beach firefighter Toby Harrison, shoved a photographer. Carrying his daughters, Harrison seemed unfazed.
“Good to see you all,” he called out.