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Firm denies business relationship in maligned hemp project, contradicting local company's claims

Posted: 4:52 PM, May 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-22 15:35:57-04
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CLEVELAND — In addition to facing allegations of not paying its employees, North Coast Natural Solutions LLC, the company behind a proposed hemp manufacturing facility in Cleveland, faces even more scrutiny after one of its supposed "business partners’" has denied all involvement in the project.

In the summer of 2018, Tierney ‘Ty’ Williams, the CEO of North Coast Natural Solutions, provided to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank a copy of the business plan behind the proposed hemp manufacturing facility. The documents were submitted to land bank officials in order to obtain a sprawling yet dilapidated industrial facility at 12735 Kirby Avenue in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. News 5 obtained a copy of the business plan through an open records request.

Land bank officials said staff had Williams provide them with the written prospectus and, later in the process, provide to the land bank letters of endorsement. As News 5 has previously reported, City Councilman Michael Polensek and County Executive Armond Budish provided letters endorsing the project. The proposed hemp manufacturing facility was also heavily championed by several prominent black pastors in Cleveland. Land bank officials said the entity's mission is to get long deliquent, tax-forfeited properties back into the hands of people and developers who ultimately get the properties back on the tax rolls. However, because the land bank does not have equity interest in these properties, the agency does not have the ability to underwrite and evaluate deals like a financial institution or city economic development department, land bank officials said.

According to property records, Williams purchased the Kirby Ave. property from the land bank for $10,000.

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According to the business plan Williams provided to the land bank, the project was led by the International Center for Cannabis Therapy (ICCT), which is based in the Czech Republic. ICCT was planning on investing more than $35 million in the first phase of the project, according to the business plan. The packet of documents also lists the project’s five business partners: ICCT; Francis Costello, the director of ICCT; Williams’ company Level 5 Global Consulting; Jason Searns, an attorney who has worked in the medical marijuana industry; Dr. Jenny Wilkins, a naturopathic doctor and clinical research associate and, lastly, The Hoban Law Group, a Colorado-based law firm that represents some of the largest hemp producers and manufacturers in the country.

The Hoban Law Group was the only ‘business partner’ listed in the business plan that returned requests for comment.

In a telephone conversation, an official from the law group said the company does not have a business relationship with ICCT nor has it ever. The law group representative said ICCT approached the Hoban Law Group several years ago for representation however no agreement was reached.

Additionally, the Hoban Law Group representative told News 5 that he has never heard of Williams, nor has he heard of his firm, Level 5 Global Consulting.

“I was surprised to see our name listed on [those documents],” the representative said.

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A Cleveland building where a Hempcrete plant is supposed to begin production this year.

The revelation is the latest and biggest question, among many, surrounding Williams and North Coast Natural Solutions. As News 5 first reported , dozens of former and current employees of North Coast Natural Solutions claimed that they have yet to be paid for several week's worth of training ahead of the business opening in June. Since early April, former and current employees said Williams offered a litany of excuses, including issues with IRS-related paperwork, bank accounts and the inability to secure the services of a human relations management company.

According to audio and video obtained by News 5 through a source, Williams can be seen and heard trying to fend off the concerns of dozens of employees about their paychecks. The cell phone records were taken during company-wide meetings at Cuyahoga Community College in April while employees were in the middle of training.

“I know a lot of you are pissed off. I was pissed off. You saw my face… because the last thing I wanted to do was stand in front of 183 people and tell them they weren’t going to get paid and not know exactly why,” Williams said in one of the recordings.

In the cell phone videos, Williams repeatedly makes several promises, including getting the employees their long overdue paychecks and bonuses. At one point, Williams offered each employee a $150 per day bonus for those who stuck around during the fiasco. Williams and his company, North Coast Natural Solutions, reportedly owed the 183 employees more than $500,000 in wages and bonuses, according to the cell phone video.

At several points in the two hours of cell phone recordings, employees of the company became audibly upset because of the numerous delays in getting their paychecks. To date, most if not all of the employees that were initially signed on to work at the company have not been paid, employees said.

In one contentious exchange, Williams began cursing and shouting at an employee who expressed concerns about the missing paychecks.

“Whoever just said that – just don’t come back Monday. I’m sick of this [expletive]. I know you’re sick of it too,” Williams said. “I’m going tell you right now everybody is working their [expletive] off and this is corporate America. I’m going to tell you I’ve been up for 22 hours a day since last Thursday. Alright, that’s right, that’s my problem. And it’s going to be my problem if I keep you.”

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According to a federal lawsuit filed by two employees of the company, including its former vice president of human relations, one of the excuses Williams offered to employees was that the bank couldn’t print checks because it was out of paper.

Despite the lingering questions and controversy, Williams has reportedly maintained that employees would be paid in full by the end of last week, according to text messages obtained by News 5. However, employees that News 5 reached on Tuesday confirmed that they have not been paid.

Williams has not returned repeated requests for comment.

Cuyahoga Community College has offered free job readiness sessions and is organizing an upcoming job fair for current and former employees of North Coast Natural Solutions. Tri-C’s offer comes as Williams, still owes the college tens of thousands of dollars for the training services and accommodations that it provided while employees were preparing to work at the company’s new hemp manufacturing facility.

Tri-C staff will be reaching out to every North Coast employee, both current and former, and offering them the job readiness sessions, which include instruction on resume building and job interview skills. A job fair connecting affected North Coast employees is also being planned for later this month. A date and time has not been determined yet.