Did Florida's Pot Czar pad his resume?
Nepotism, cronyism alleged in Rick Scott hire of medical cannabis director
When Gov. Rick Scott appointed Christian Bax as Florida's "Pot Czar" -- the director of the Office of Compassionate Use, which is now overseeing what is expected to soon be a $2 billion medical cannabis industry -- a state-issued news release touted the business experience Bax had dealing with medical cannabis.
"Previously Bax co-founded CBK Consulting, a company with expertise navigating medical marijuana regulations in Nevada and Washington," the Department of Health proclaimed of Bax.
The company, according to Bax's resume, had been in business for three years, had locations in three cities and secured six medical-cannabis licenses for its clients "despite an extremely competitive bid process."
On top of that, Bax claimed on his resume that he served as "counsel and business development consultant" for Target Molecule, a year-old "Chinese biotech selling molecular compound libraries and experimental drug collections to academic institutions." And he claimed to be the current CEO for Renegade Companies, a startup media production company in Boston.
The governor appointed Bax fresh out of business school -- he allegedly compiled his impressive list of business credentials while getting his MBA.
There are, however, problems with the claims of Bax and the state in its news release: for one, the CBK Consulting firm never officially existed.
A check of numerous states' corporate records shows that CBK Consulting was never incorporated as a business, meaning it didn't exist in an official capacity. Thus far, no evidence of any work Bax did in Washington or Nevada has surfaced and Bax, despite repeated requests, hasn't produced any proof that he did the work.
Portland-based freelance journalist Angela Bacca, who writes extensively about cannabis issues across the country and first questioned Bax's credentials in a piece for the Huffington Post, said she could find "no reasonable connection" between CBK and the Nevada and Washington medical cannabis market.
During a state court case last year, Bax testified that CBK consisted of three partners led by Greta Carter, who is a cannabis entrepreneur in California. And he testified in a deposition that it was Carter who actually secured those licenses.
"Greta, as the leader, worked on six applications in Nevada," Bax said. "Those were successful."
But when reached on the phone, Carter said she was never a partner in CBK Consulting. She said knew Christian Bax because he had met her after she spoke at a conference and believed he had had assisted her with some of her company’s applications. When pressed for details about what exactly Bax had accomplished, Carter refused to answer and eventually hung up the phone.
In another discrepancy, Bax claimed in his resume that CBK Consulting was in existence from 2013 through 2015, but in sworn court testimony, he said "the actual CBK Consulting was about a year that it existed." Local 10 News was unable to locate the alleged third partner, identified in court documents as Jaco Kolev.
Bax walked away from our cameras and refused to answer any questions and Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri told Local 10 News in an email that information regarding CBK Consulting's clients was "not held by the department" and that there was no legal requirement for Bax to incorporate the company.
"CBK Consulting was a partnership Christian Bax was part of prior to his work at the department, with which he is no longer affiliated," Gambineri wrote. "For general partnerships, there is no filing requirement."
Gambineri also wrote that Bax couldn't provide any work product associated with CBK because he "and his partners signed non-disclosure agreements with their clients ... Mr. Bax is working to locate a copy of the agreement, however, it is proving a bit difficult as it has been a few years."
But there are more holes in his resume. Another company he listed was something called "Target Molecule" in Boston, where Bax went to business school. In his resume, Bax called it a "Chinese biotech company selling molecular compound libraries and experimental drug collections to academic institutions," and claimed he'd worked at the company since the previous year.
Sounds like heady work, but at the time he submitted that resume, Target Molecule also didn't officially exist. Corporate records in Massachusetts show Target Molecule wasn't incorporated until a month after Bax submitted that resume. Listed as the president is a Xu Peng. While Local 10 News was unable to reach Peng, there was a student at Babson College with Bax at that time with that name.
Again, Bax refused to answer questions, but Gambineri basically admitted Bax had in fact never actually worked at such a firm, but instead may have helped someone who was trying to start it apply for seed money.
"Mr. Bax was part of the Target Molecule team during their application and acceptance to the Summer Venture Program, a business accelerator ...," Gambineri wrote. "Follow(ing) his acceptance of the role at DOH, Mr. Bax left the organization prior to them finalizing their incorporation paperwork."
So it appears Bax's claim of working for a "Chinese biotech company" boils down to his helping a fellow student try to get a business grant for a company that didn't yet exist.
As for Renegade, the "media startup company," it wasn't incorporated in Boston, but in Florida and appears to have been started in the year 2000 by Bax's father, James Bax, a Longboat Key businessman. The name Christian Bax was added as "vice president" under his father's name in 2008. In the 2015 filing, the year Christian Bax alleged in his resume that he was the CEO of the company, he is listed as a VP, while his father is listed as president.
The lack of incorporation for CBK alone was enough for state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) to call for a state investigation of Bax’s background.
"I think it's really important the director to answer questions about his background and his resume," Clemens said. "If your resume is padded with issues from the past that really aren't real, that gives me a heck of a lot of concern that we're not gonna move forward in the right way. There are 27 or 28 other states that have medical cannabis so there's a wealth of talent across United States as far as how you regulate. There's no reason for us to hire someone that doesn't have experience in regulating the industry."
Clemens said Bax should resign if he can't or won't prove the work experience he listed is legitimate.
"If Christian Bax lied on his resume or embellished his resume, I think we need to, No. 1, know it and No. 2, he needs to find another job," Clemens said.
Gary Stein, a leading medical cannabis advocate in the state, said Scott never should have hired Bax in the first place, calling the appointment a product of nepotism and cronyism.
"Politics is getting in the way of medicine," Stein said. "Politicians are getting in the way of doctors treating their patients and that's got to stop."
Bax, in fact, wasn't the first member of his family Scott hired in his administration. The governor hired his sister, Laura Bax Dane, in 2013 as an aide and she now works as his judicial nominations coordinator. It was Laura Bax Dane who passed along Bax's resume to her fellow administration officials.
The key in understanding why Scott seems to favor the Bax family appears to again be his father, James Bax, a Republican donor and businessman who has long had dealings with the state and was involved in a major Department of Children and Families scandal in 2004.
According to a state investigation and published reports at the time, James Bax threw a birthday party for then-DCF director Jerry Regier and and hosted him at his waterfront home in Longboat Key at the same time DCF was paying $4 million to a Bax-run research institute at Florida State University. An ensuing state audit found that the institute received questionable fees and made dubious purchases. The findings led to a DCF shakeup that included demotions and resignations in the agency, including Regier's exit.
Despite that history, Scott not only hired Bax's children to state jobs but also last year appointed James Bax to the Public Employees Relations Commission. When Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman attempted to question Scott about Bax last week, Scott refused to comment.
Stein said Scott should replace Bax immediately.
"We don't need somebody there with fake experience because of crony capitalism," he said.
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