Daniel Stanford stands trial as last defendant in Curious Goods conspiracy case

by Patrick Flanagan

It's been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.

Daniel Stanford

It's been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.

Barry Domingue

For Stanford, that day came Tuesday morning in what appears to be the start of a very long trial against the lone defendant in what was originally a 9-person indictment, which also included charges against Richard Buswell, Stanford's client. The other defendants (seven remain after the death of Domingue), Alexander Derrick Reece, Drew T. Green, Thomas Malone Jr., Boyd Anthony Barrow, Joshua Espinoza, Richard Buswell and Dan Francis, have cut plea deals, and it's likely they will be called to testify against Stanford.

Tuesday morning's proceedings kicked off with opening statements from Assistant U.S. Attorney Collin J. Sims and from Stanford, who, like Domingue, has acted as his own attorney throughout the case (attorney Bill Goode has assisted both Stanford and Domingue throughout the process, but we'll save that for another story).

The IND sat in for Tuesday's opening arguments, starting with lead prosecutor Sims who broke the federal government's case down into three different conspiracies all involving the Mr. Miyagi brand of synthetic marijuana and Stanford's alleged role in its strategic labeling, its trafficking and in laundering the money derived from its proceeds.

"This case is all about greed, money, lies and drugs," Sims told jurors.

In laying out the fed's case, Sims focused on a letter Stanford claimed to have received from the attorney general promising protection from any prosecution related to Mr. Miyagi.

"The scheme and lies were all based on promises of protection because of a phantom letter from the AG - a quasi-blessing," said Sims.

Another big theme outlined in the prosecution's case centers on the date Nov. 28, 2011. That's the day Stanford filed papers for the incorporation of a nonprofit Louisiana chapter of the Retail Compliance Association - first created by former defendant Dan Francis in California as a way of helping businesses comply with laws surrounding the sale of synthetic cannabinoids like Mr. Miyagi.

"Before RCA, Daniel Stanford had already been paid about $150,000 (through Curious Goods owner Buswell), but the RCA would be the real money train," said Sims, adding his allegations are backed by evidence such as bank records and receipts for cash exchanges, all of which will be presented during the trial.

Sims continued:

RCA membership was going to be mandatory for all [Curious Goods] franchise owners, which required paying $1,500 a week to Daniel Stanford to be compliant. He was also getting $6,000 to $7,000 a week from Richard Buswell and another $6,000 to $7,000 a week from Pinnacle. That's about $40,000 a week from all those funds together, and if the other two stores came online, it would've been more than $50,000 per week.

Sims rounded out the fed's case with a series of events that started with Stanford's attendance at a special "training" meeting held at Buswell's home on Dec. 7, 2011:

This was a training meeting with all the Curious Goods franchise owners, the Pinnacle guys, Dan Francis and [others]. At the meeting, there was a skit and some role-playing about how employees should never acknowledge ingesting the [Mr. Miyagi]. There are emails between Daniel Stanford and Dan Francis preparing for the meeting. The franchise owners were told, If you want Mr. Miyagi, you must join RCA and pay for protection.'

If they're all being shaken down, why stay? And then the next day, law enforcement kicks down the doors and then everyone meets at Daniel Stanford's office to figure out how they're going to get new product.

The Dec. 8 raid of Curious Goods and its six franchises may have marked the end for Mr. Miyagi's sale in Louisiana, but for Stanford, the central theme of his opening argument Tuesday focused more on the beginning of the Mr. Miyagi story and not the Dec. 7, 2011, drug raid that eventually resulted in the federal indictment.

Boyd Barrow

That story's beginning is where the other eight names on the original indictment come into play; all but one of Stanford's eight co-defendants have struck plea deals with federal prosecutors over the last few years, and it's likely that most of the seven - this count excludes Barry Domingue - will be brought out as federal witnesses over the next few days of the trial, with appearances expected by Boyd Barrow, Dan Francis and former Curious Goods owner Buswell.

Stanford also used Tuesday's opening statement to credit the Curious Goods owner as the person responsible for his inclusion in the federal case, making it a point to stress to jurors the date he first met Buswell, and the date cited by federal prosecutors as the start of the conspiracy case.

"Here's a road map to the facts of this case," Stanford told jurors. "The indictment says this conspiracy began March 1, 2011, and even starting then, Mr. Miyagi was already being packaged and labeled in a certain way, with the ingredients and packaging never changing. Even before March 1, 2011, it was already being made in Georgia and distributed to 33 other states."

Those distributors were Boyd Barrow and Joshua Espinoza, both former defendants and co-owners of Mr. Miyagi's Georgia-based distributor Pinnacle Products. For the chemicals necessary to make Mr. Miyagi, Espinoza and Boyd went through the Florida-based NutraGenomics, which was owned by Tommy Malone and Drew Green, also former defendants who like Barrow and Espinoza eventually agreed to help prosecutors in exchange for reduced sentences.

According to Stanford, the reason he's been included in the federal conspiracy case has everything to do with his legal representation of Curious Goods owner Richard Buswell in an unrelated federal case for securities fraud.

The two were introduced in July 2011 by Jerry LeBlanc, a boxer trained by Stanford and a friend of Buswell's. Shortly after, Buswell hired Stanford to represent him in the securities fraud case. According to Stanford, the two agreed to $100,000, paid in installments, to cover Buswell's legal fees. The money, Stanford claimed Tuesday, would come from Buswell's business account for Curious Goods, which required a signature from his mother since she was majority owner of the business. She agreed, and Buswell paid his first installment with a $12,500 check on Nov. 14, 2011, according to Stanford's opening statement. That payment, Stanford said, represents count five of the federal indictment for money laundering. Other checks came in, claimed Stanford, including a $15,000 payment on Nov. 17, which a day later, Buswell would ask to be combined with his first payment to cover expenses for his partner from Bowman Investment Group, Richard Foucke, who also was indicted in the securities fraud case. That combined payment of $25,000, according to Stanford, represents counts six through seven in the federal indictment.

Stanford also alleged that the payments he received from Pinnacle's Boyd Barrow had no connection to the sale of Mr. Miyagi. Barrow, claimed Stanford, was worried after hearing of the troubles his business associate (Buswell) was facing in connection to the securities fraud case, and decided to put Stanford on retainer in case Buswell's legal troubles ended up causing legal problems for him. The source of that money, which was paid through Barrow's Pinnacle Products, is what may prove problematic for Stanford, since the feds allege those payments were "protection money" paid to Stanford's Retail Compliance Association.

The case is expected to extend over the next few days, and for jurors, the main issue will likely center on the conflict created by Stanford's claim that his role in the synthetic marijuana side of Buswell's business was insubstantial and his knowledge was limited, compared with the fed's allegation of a more intimate role in the conspiracy based on his incorporation of a Louisiana version of the Retail Compliance Association to advise businesses on how to sell Mr. Miyagi while staying under the radar of law enforcement.

For more on this story, click here and here.