Andy Defrancesco Secret Deals-Promoter Payoffs, Verano Shares pledged : $APHA $SOLCF

Cannabis company Sol Global Investments ($SOL.cn $SOLCF) posted positive net income in their year end financials but failed to discloses key details about one of their most valuable assets which is their shares of Verano. The Toronto based company is run by controversial investor Andy Defrancesco in the role of Chairman and Chief Investment Officer and his side kick a former Florida lobbyist, Brady Cobb, who serves as CEO.

On July 8th Sol Global announced it had received a $37.5 million U.S. dollars private placement investment made as a senior secured loan with 6% interest and a two year pay back. At the time of the announcement the stock was trading at $1.55. Over the past six months the stock has been on a decline after a one day high of $3.02 on March 21st. Sol Global said in filing with the Canadian Stock Exchange that the transaction was arms length, which means Andy and insiders of the company didn’t personally loan the money to company. There was a lot of market speculation on who would give a fledgling cannabis company who was short on cash that much money. According to a person familiar with the company who had direct knowledge of the investment the money came with a catch. Defrancesco had to pledge the Verano shares as secured collateral if Sol Global can’t payback the loan in two years. The firm lending the money is suspected to be a Canada based firm and there is market chatter that MM Capital is the lender.

On October 23 2018 Sol Global made a $88 million investment in Verano, a private cannabis company, in deal that was intended for Verano to buy Sol Global’s Florida medical cannabis farm called 3 Boys Farms. According to the Florida office of Medical Marijuana, 3 Boys Farm had not even secured its full license to sell and distribute the cannabis at the time of the announcement. That deal fell apart after Defrancesco was hit with negative press coverage in December challenging his business ethics and undisclosed insider dealings. Then on March 11, 2019, Harvest Health & Recreation Inc.(CSE: HARV) announced its intention to acquire Verano in an all share transaction for a purchase price approximating USD$850,000,000 which was based on a Harvest share price of CAD$8.79 per share. Sol Global’s class B private shares in Verano have a good chance of becoming very valuable once the Harvest deal closed. The company told investors they thought the book value per share of their Verano investment was $4 CAD.

In a series of text messages I obtained between Andy and an investor in Verano/Harvest Andy was worried the men running Harvest and Verano were going to try to cut him out of the merger shares. The texts show Andy was asked to stop tweeting that he had a role in the Harvest/Verano deal. In fact the Harvest/Verano leadership wasn’t communicating with him and wouldn’t let him issue a press release clarifying for investors that 3 Boys Farm couldn’t be sold to Verano now; because Florida’s medical marijuana rules only allow a company to own one cannabis farm license and Harvest already owned one. Eventually the investor helped Andy get permission to communicate how Sol Global was effected by the deal.

Sol Global’s year end 2018 income was negative $19,343,230 million. For the year ending March 31, 2019 Sol Global reported a positive net income of $71,245,897 million U.S. dollars, which was a significant improvement.The largest bucket of revenue came from Sol’s gain on the sale of the LatAM assets to Aphria with a whopping earn out of $150,616,833 million U.S. Dollars.

Defrancesco was caught up in controversy this winter when a short seller report detailed how he made undisclosed millions off leading the sale of LatAM cannabis licenses to Aphria ($APHA) for inflated values. He is being personally sued for securities fraud in the Southern District of New York in a class action lawsuit filed by main street shareholders of Aphria. Court filings show Andy has been avoiding service of the Aphria lawsuit at his Miami home and Florida office. Defrancesco is currently working in the U.S. off a green card and hasn’t traveled outside the US recently over concerns he would not be let back in. Sol Global’s year end financials also failed to disclose it’s chairman and chief investing officer is subject to a lawsuit that alleges he used his influence of Sol Global to make the questionable deal where Aphria paid around $200 million for the LatAM cannabis assets. A few months after the short seller report came out Aphria wrote down one of the assets in the report by $50 million. The stock tumbled on the news.

The Short Seller report written by Nate Anderson of Hindenburg Research and Gabe Grego Quintessential Capital Management caused Defrancesco to start personal attacks on the fund managers. Grego’s website was even hit was a DDOS attack causing it to crash. Defrancesco decided he need a black ops Public Relationship group to go to work drumming up counter press reports. That firm is called AWM Group. In their recent year end financials Sol Global admits it spent $3.6 million CAD on PR and consulting to “counter fraudulent short seller reports”. There were no lawsuits filed accusing the short sellers of fraud by the company and Aphria did not offer a point by point rebuttal to the report as publicly promised. Additionally, Defrancesco was working behind the scenes to get a cannabis analyst and a cannabis twitter stock jockey to write favorable coverage of Aphria and negative coverage on individuals who negatively reported on Defrancesco or companies he is involved in.

Twitter stock trader, that goes by the name Johnny Lambo, met with Defrancesco on King street in Toronto. According to how Lambo tells it Defrancesco wined and dinned him and offered to give him early insight into the company if he tweeted favorable news on Andy’s investment. When Lambo was out one night with another Bay street market player, interviewed by this reporter, Lambo said “Defrancesco also has this guy at Grizzle do coverage his way.” Lambo’s statement about Grizzle was made in justification of why he’s backing Defrancesco. His twitter handle is @lambojohnny and his real name is John Mastromattei. Lambo also told the Bay street market player he was given direction to tweet disparaging or fake news about this reporter.

Grizzle is a Canada based research firm that publishes reports on Tech and Cannabis with the mantra of “The language of new money”. The head of research is a man named Scott Willis who claims he is a certified financial analyst. Willis ran reports naming Aphria’s Vic Neufeld as the most trusted CEO. He published a multi-page report on November 1st 2018 giving Aphria a $200 price target and an individualized review of the LatAM assets with harvest production estimates and construction cost per gram. Grizzle immediately called the Hindenburg report a hit piece and tried to justify the Aphria share price the day after the short seller report became public.

The Grizzle stock price estimate helped prop up Aphria stock while Sol Global was selling their Aphria shares received from the LatAm sale. Sol Global booked profits in the triple digit millions off Aphria stock sales. The management review of Aphria’s CEO Vic Neufeld as a trusted public company executive was designed to counter a previous negative report about Neufeld’s role in a company Aphria was going to buy called Nuuvera. Nuuvera was another Defrancesco insider deal. A footnote to the report states Grizzle employees own Aphria shares. But no where in the Grizzle reports does it state Scott Willis was getting paid by Defrancesco or one of his many companies he controls to write the reports. Vic Neufeld was eventually removed from Aphria.

Andy Defrancesco celebrating with Vic Neufeld December 2017

Grizzle had also agreed to center their coverage on Aphria and turned down at least one other public cannabis company, according to an email sent by Scott Willis and seen by this reporter. Willis met the CEO of the company during a marijuana investor conference. When the CEO had a one on one sit down with Willis asking him if Grizzle could also cover his company the CEO was surprised by Scott’s demand that he get 50,000 shares of the company, according to an interview with this reporter. The 50,000 shares to pay for research was also written in an email between Willis and the CEO and seen by this reporter. Shortly after the meeting Willis wrote the CEO back saying he was going to have to pass on covering his company.

Willis wrote in August 2018, “I talked with my partner about your firm after our meeting and he agrees you guys have some great things going, but we will have to circle back with you in a month or two. We are currently working on a mandate for one of the big 3 producers..” The big 3 producer is believed to Aphria according to people familiar with the arrangement. The CEO says he never heard from Willis after that email and Grizzle never covered his company.

Companies can pay for research as long as the payment is disclosed by the company. In the U.S. SEC rules say a person writing and publishing a stock research report would have to disclose they were paid to write the report as a promoter. Grizzle adds a disclaimer to their website, that can be seen around the world, that their reports are only intended for Canada residents. It’s unclear if Scott Willis is a U.S. or Canadian resident.

Request for comment about the alleged Grizzle kickback sent to Andy’s Quinn Emanuel attorney was not returned for comment.

Yesterday David Milstead at the Globe & Mail was first to report that Defrancesco has hired a white collar criminal lawyer from big law Quinn Emanuel. He is a 36-year old Harvard grad named Alex Spiro who formerly worked in the Manhattan prosecutors office. Spiro admitted in the Globe & Mail story that he is working with the SEC on behalf of Defrancesco to respond to a recent subpoena in another non-cannabis company, Cool Holdings ($AWSM), that was an alleged pump and dump run by Barry Honig with the help of Defrancesco. I previous reported on how Defrancesco and Honig worked with broker dealer Laidlaw to allegedly off load $AWSM shares to Laidlaw’s main street clients.

I asked attorney Spiro today if he will also be representing Defrancesco in the Aphria lawsuit and he responded yes so it looks like Andy has finally stopped running from service.

Since Sol Global’s positive year end results have come out the stock has not traded above $2. The company will hold an earnings call on August 8th at 4pm to answer investor questions. The dial in number is: U.S. Toll-Free Number: (888) 390 0546

Update 8-8-19: Sol Global CEO Brady Cobb announced on the earnings call that there will changes to the company board in the coming weeks. Andy Defrancesco is Chairman of the board.

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