Top San Luis Obispo County stories in 2022: murder trial and corruption

December 28, 2022

Kristin Smart

By CalCoastNews staff

To say 2022 was an eventful year in San Luis Obispo County would be an understatement. The top three stories of 2022 focus on Paul Flores’ murder conviction, Helios Dayspring and corruption.

1. Paul Flores found guilty of first-degree murder, appeal planned

After more than 26 years, a jury convicted Paul Flores of first-degree murder in the killing of Kristin Smart in 1996.

Flores murdered Smart during an attempted rape in 1996 following a Cal Poly frat party. Flores helped escort Smart, who was found passed out on a lawn outside the party, back to her dorm room. She was never seen again.

The primary suspect in the case, Flores was sporting a black eye when interviewed by law enforcement. Investigators determined he lied repeatedly. Even so, it would be years before deputies raided Flores’ home.

During a 2020 raid of Flores’ San Pedro home, deputies discovered multiple rape videos with titles including, “Drugged and raped while passed out” and “Blonde high school girl in skirt gets raped.” Investigators also found two bottles of date rape drugs.

However, the evidence that likely sealed Flores’ fate was the testimony of Jennifer Hudson.

Hudson, who encountered Flores at a mutual friend’s house in 1996, testified Flores referred to Smart as a “dick tease.” Hudson said Flores admitted burying Smart’s body under a skate ramp in rural Arroyo Grande.

Flores’ attorney Robert Sanger unsuccessfully argued that Hudson was not a credible witness because she changed her story multiple times. Sanger said Hudson, who he called the prosecution’s “star witness,” wove a preposterous tale.

Prosecutors accused Paul Flores’ father Ruben Flores of helping his son dispose of Smart’s body. Ruben Flores’ attorney Harold Mesick successfully argued there was not enough evidence to convict his 81-year-old client of an accessory charge.

In November, Paul Flores attorney Robert Sanger filed a motion that successfully delayed his client’s sentencing, now set for March 10. Sanger said he needed time to file for a new trial.

Helios Dayspring walking into his sentencing hearing after pleading guilty as part of FBI corruption probe

2. Helios Dayspring sentenced to prison for corruption

Following a plea deal in which marijuana mogul Helios Dayspring admitted he made multiple bribes to then SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, a judge sentensed Dayspring to 22 months in federal prison. Dayspring also agreed to pay $3.4 million in restitution to the IRS and cooperate in the government’s ongoing corruption investigation.

In his plea agreement, Dayspring admitted paying Hill multiple bribes in cash and money orders totaling $32,000. But prosecutors report that the value of bribes was over $32,000. The sentencing recommendation disclosed that Dayspring is responsible for between $95,000 and $150,000 in bribes.

During his sentencing hearing, Dayspring’s attorney Sandra Brown Boodner argued that the defendant was a hard-working man who gave back to the community. Brown Boodner said that Dayspring donated toys for children and turkeys to the poor. She also argued that aside from tax fraud and bribery, Dayspring did nothing illegal.

The prosecutor did not agree.

“He cheated on his taxes for more than four years, which he spent on his business,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Rybarczyk said. “Defendant was a cold, calculating businessman who sought to bribe and cheat his way to a cannabis empire.”

Brown Boodner said that Dayspring, an unsophisticated man, followed Hill’s direction in hiring a consultant and an attorney who led him down the illegal path. The attorney, though not named during the hearing, is a partner in one of the most prominent law firms in SLO County.

Judge Birotte reminded Brown Boodner about Dayspring’s attitude that, “It’s a Monopoly game. I’m going to take out the competition.”

Dayspring is currently serving his sentence at the the Federal Correctional Institution in Mendota.

Helios Dayspring, in jail for corruption

3. Upstarts grab a slice of cannabis kingpin’s empire

When San Luis Obispo picked the people who would operate three marijuana retail shops in the city, they selected Helios Dayspring and his Natural Healing Center. They also chose a group of people who were behind Megan’s Organic Market and another group who applied under SLOCal Roots.

The Megan’s Organic and SLOCal Roots applicants said on their forms that they were independent and using their own money to start their businesses. Things moved forward and Dayspring continued as San Luis Obispo’s marijuana mogul.

Then in 2020, federal prosecutors charged Dayspring with bribing public officials and falsifying his tax returns.

Initially, city officials didn’t mind that Dayspring admitted to bribing a county official. Those crimes were not tied to selling marijuana. He transferred control of Natural Healing Center into the hands of his girlfriend. The city found that acceptable.

Months later, however, the city took away his license saying he lied about breaking the law and cheating on his taxes.

Not fair, Dayspring said. Megan’s Organic and SLOCal Roots lied on their applications about funding their shops independently, according to contracts.

Dayspring said he should know because he loaned them hundreds of thousands of dollars to get started. The loans were supposed to turn into an ownership stake in each shop, maintaining Dayspring’s control of marijuana in San Luis Obispo.

Dayspring found locations for each retailer working with property owners Levi Seligman and Keith Sweeney. Seligman and Sweeney eventually gained a stake in Megan’s Organic.

Dayspring came up with an $800,000 convertible promissory note to fund Megan’s Organic Market and signed an agreement to have his employees manage the marijuana retail store, according to the documents.

Andre was one of Dayspring’s employees. There is a dispute whether Dayspring gave him a part of the $800,000 loan, but the convertible promissory note names him and an interest in Megan’s Organic.

“The membership interest to be issued upon conversion shall consist of 47% membership interest in the company issued to Helios Dayspring and 3% membership interest in the company issued to Nicholas Andre,” according to the convertible promissory note.

Dustin Tardiff, the attorney for Megan’s Organic, insists Dayspring did not give Andre a cut of the promissory note. He says that Andre quit working for Dayspring before taking the job at Megan’s Organic.

Documents initially filed with the city showed ownership of Megan’s Organic split among six people: Megan Souza would have a 31.5% stake; Eric Powers another 31.5%, Melissa Seligman, 9.5%; Levi Seligman, 8%; Lindsey Law, 9.5%; and, Keith Sweeney 8%.

Dayspring’s convertible loan agreement shows the note could turn into a 46% ownership interest in Megan’s Organic for him and a reduction in several partners’ percentages.

Megan’s Organic opened in the summer of 2020.

MOM USA LLC, a company started by the newer investors, purchased the convertible note, and the owners of Megan’s Organic paid Dayspring back, Tardiff said. Tardiff then moved partial ownership of Megan’s Organic to a group of people tied to himself and Andre.

Tardiff asked the city in 2021 to transfer ownership in Megan’s Organic from Melissa Seligman, Levi Seligman, Lindsey Law and Keith Sweeney to Alison Borges, Tarrah Graves, Jillian Cardona and Phoebe Lapari, according to the email from the city to Tardiff.

Borges, the then-girlfriend and now wife of Andre, is an elementary school teacher. Tardiff said Andre did not transfer the ownership interest to his girlfriend. She “purchased the shares.”

Graves is Tardiff’s wife, according to a 2015 grant deed. Tardiff said his wife also purchased shares.

Jillian Cardona is related to Mark Cardona, general counsel for MOM USA LLC.

ODLAS Investments LLC, which is owned by Tyler and Marian Saldo, now owns 8% of Megan’s. Saldo is Tardiff’s law partner.

Dayspring accuses the city of canceling his permit for dishonesty while looking the other way when Megan’s Organic provided false information, in a declaration in support of a lawsuit filed against the city. In its application, Megan’s Organic claimed all its financial capital originated from its ownership team.

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Clear bias Dayspring was 2 of the three 2022 stories.

Sad how corrupt our county is

Do you think we will ever find out what Adam Hill did?