Andy Defrancesco sued for Securities Fraud for role in Aphria: $APHA

Cannabis financier and Sol Global chairman Andrew Defrancesco is front and center of a 90-page securities fraud lawsuit filed in New York federal court this week. Defrancesco, a resident of South Florida has been publicly fighting recent press reports and a short sale research paper both questioning the legality of his investments in multiple publicly traded cannabis companies. The current lawsuit is being ligated by Adam Apton of Levi & Korsinsky LLP on behalf of shareholders who lost millions in Canadian cannabis company Aphria. Aphria trades on U.S. and Canadian stock exchanges ($APHA).

Apton was recently named lead lawyer in the lawsuit after multiple law firms fought to sue the alleged masterminds of the Aphria fraud. Defendants now include Aphria executives Cole Cacciavillani and John Cervini, in addition to Defrancesco and publicly traded Scythian BioSciences (since renamed Sol Global Investments $SOLCF $SOL.cn). Victor Neufeld Aphria’s ex-CEO, remains a defendant from the original complaint.

John, Andy, Cole $APHA accused fraudsters

The amended complaint was filed May 28th along with summons issued to the new defendants. Defrancesco might try to hide from service of this lawsuit, similar to how he did in a defamation suit filed this year by a cannabis research firm. The address used for service in both lawsuits, 2300 E. Las Olas Blvd., 5th Floor Fort Lauderdale, is Andy’s work address for multiple LLC’s he owns. As first reported by this publication, Defrancesco sold his Fort Lauderdale home at, 811 SE 26th Avenue Fort Lauderdale, in July 2018 to one of Barry Honig’s right hand guys, John Stetson. Real estate records show Stetson bought the home for an inflated value of $5.2 million in cash while the home was assessed at $3.6 million. A few months after the home sale Stetson was named as a defendant in the pump and dump enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Since then, there is no paper trail showing where Andy lives or if he is still lives with his recently divorced wife Catherine Defrancesco.

This week I obtained new records that show Andy could be loading up on Florida real estate possibly in an attempt to keep assets out of reach of lawsuits or the government. The most recent purchase is a 7-bedroom, 11-bath, 9,500 square foot custom-built home with a dock and water front view in the Flamingo Bay area of Miami Beach, FLA. State records show 4395 Pine Tree, Miami Beach, Fl. sold for $19.9 million in July 2018 to a new LLC named ONJ Holdings. Florida is a homestead state, which means it is harder to attach a person’s main residence in case of judgments or liens.

4395 Pine Tree

Florida corporate records show that ONJ Holdings LLC was established on 7/26/2018 and the Pine Tree property was purchased 5 days later on 7/31/2018. The state records also show that none other than Andy Defrancesco buddy Michael Galloro is the manager of ONJ Holdings. Galloro is, or was, the COO of Delavaco Capital. He was also the interim CEO of Liberty Health Sciences, and the principal of ALOE Finance, a company that operates out of Delavaco’s offices and has offered CFO services to Scythian BioSciences/SOL Global. Andy Defrancesco is the founder of Delavaco, the corporate entity to which Aphria was paying high consulting fees for buying cannabis related assets, according to the lawsuit.

The consulting fees earned by Defrancesco’s company are highlighted in the new amended class action shareholder lawsuit against Aphria and Andy Defrancesco. On top of the consulting fees Defrancesco and Sol Global are accused of selling cannabis farm licences to Aphria in an overseas area called LatAM for allegedly inflated prices with the help of Aphria executives John Cervini, Cole Cacciavillani and Aphria president Vic Neufeld. The lawsuit states these actions were designed to benefit insiders at the expense of public shareholders, and the Aphria executives aided Andy to hide his role in the alleged scheme.

Andy Defrancesco Chairman of Sol Global

This is the first complaint in which Andy Defrancesco is a named defendant tied to securities fraud. There are currently two other potentially damaging lawsuits playing out in federal court. One is a defamation suit in South Florida filed by a cannabis research firm New Frontier Data, and a second lawsuit names his recently divorced wife, Catherine Defrancesco, in an amended shareholder fraud suit, filed in New Jersey, against RIOT Blockchain. Andy has admitted in press reports to Bill Alpert at Barron’s that he runs the deals in Catherine’s name.

Brady Cobb, the president of Sol Global told me in an email two weeks ago that the New Frontier defamation lawsuit was settled and signed, and the parties would be making a joint statement on the settlement. But a check of the court docket still shows the lawsuit is active and there have been no joint statements made. Repeated request to Cobb to understand why he made potentially misleading statements about this lawsuit settlement went unanswered this week. Further, Sol Global has also not updated filings with the CSE mentioning the New Frontier Lawsuit against its chairman.

Andy appears to be leasing the $20 million waterfront mansion in what could be a move to hide his current address. Andy does live there according to a person I interviewed in the Defrancesco’s circle but would not go on the record for fear of retribution. Additionally, a records check in WestLaw found that a utility bill for 4395 Pine Tree was transferred into Andrew Anthony Defrancesco name in March 2019.

The home also just happens to be down the road from his mega-millionaire friends, the Schottensteins. Property records show 4555 Pine Tree is owned by Joseph Schottenstein and is a six minute walk from where Andy is believed to be living. The Schottensteins and Defrancesco (and Barry Honig) applied for and were granted a cannabis store license in Ohio. Schottenstein was also the lead architect behind the trumped-up hostile takeover for Aphria this year after two short sellers published a report in December highlighting the self-dealing and possible fraud at Aphria and Defrancesco’s role in it. The stock price tanked after the report, which is why there is class action lawsuit against Aphria executives and Defrancesco.

In February, Green Growth Brands aided Aphria in its PR damage control campaign by offering what Aphria called a low bid for their assets so Aphria could try and show the company was more valuable, at the same time that the press and stockholders were seriously questioning the accuracy of their public statements and financials. Then on April 15th, Green Growth withdrew the bid. The same week Aphria admits that its LatAM assets had to be written down by $50 million Canadian dollars (a decrease of 35%) after the Ontario Securities Commission said the company was required to perform an asset impairment test.

This asset write-down, is what helped lawyers in the class action lawsuit add Defrancesco and Sol Global to the securities fraud lawsuit. In the U.S. discovery is not allowed until the class action survives a motion to dismiss, so it will be important to watch if the aggrieved Aphria shareholders can keep Defrancesco’s name in the suit. If so, it could be a gold mine of much needed hidden info for shareholders in other companies in which Defrancesco invested. Defrancesco has consistently been able to claim he is an independent shareholder and didn’t direct the actions of Aphria’s executives in buying the LatAM assets. The investors in the private companies he sells for alledgley inflated prices are also hidden because of recent shareholder privacy rules by the Canadian Stock Exchange (the CSE). Andy has said in press reports to the Globe & Mail and Bloomberg Canada that he is proud of the price he got for the assets. Defrancesco likes to brag in his twitter feed about beating market players and crushing them. His boasting about how much money his deals made, while structured in the names of others or hidden LLC’s he owns, could now set him up for trouble with lawsuits and regulators. Andy’s own statements are now used throughout the amended Aphria shareholder suit to allege misconduct and self-dealing.

The amended complaint reads like a rewrite of the Hindenburg Research short seller report written by Nate Anderson and Gabriel Grego of QCM. But it does include new photos from May showing the alleged worthlessness of the cannabis farms and offices. It also talks about a significant problem with the Columbia cannabis deal, ColCanna, that Vic Neufeld said would be Aphria’s best growth asset after the short seller report came out. The lawsuit says, “According to the Colombian Agriculture Institute, ColCanna was not granted authorization as a ‘selected seed producer for psychoactive cannabis and hemp’ until October 30, 2018.” You need 4 levels of a licenses in Columbia to make a go as a profit making cannabis company. Following that a company must receive ‘quota approval’ from the government to determine the quantity it is allowed to produce.
According to emails from the Colombian Justice Ministry and the Health Ministry in December 2018,seen by this reporter, the ministries confirmed ColCanna had NOT applied, nor been granted, a regular quota for 2019, nor had they applied for a supplemental production quota in 2018.

The lawsuit states that the, ColCanna quota is currently ZERO. That is because the company missed the mandatory April 30, 2019 deadline that dictated how much it could grow in the next year, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also shows photos of just five people working in an office listed for ColCanna.

Corporate filings for Aphria and Scythian/Sol Global show the land in Columbia was valued at $120,000 yet photos showed no cannabis was grown on it at the time the valuation was reported. Notwithstanding ColCanna’s apparent lack of operations, Aphria paid C$84 million to Scythian for a controlling stake in the entity, according to the lawsuit. Defrancesco and affiliates acquired the assets at an undisclosed price, then sold them to Scythian/Sol Global, which in turn marked up the assets when selling to Aphria.

At press time I did not hear back from the Colombian government to confirm the 2020 status of the ColCanna quota as detailed in the lawsuit.

Vic Neufeld, Defrancesco’s friend, is no longer CEO of Aphria, after suddenly resigning in January 2019. Neufeld was replaced by Irwin Simon, who was in charge when the company recognized the write-down of the assets at the heart of the lawsuit.

Andy Defrancesco did not respond to an email requesting comment about being named in the amended Aphria lawsuit. Brady Cobb, CEO of Sol Global, responded “no comment” to the lawsuit.

Update 7pm: This story has been updated with emails from the Colombian government regarding ColCanna’s quota

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