Pot firm tied to fading Illinois political dynasty claims it lost out after state mishandled its application
Two partners say the firm is tied to controversial Republican Bill Fawell, who lost his bid for Congress this year and has supported conspiracy theories in the past.
A failed congressional candidate from a fading political dynasty in Illinois is tied to a cannabis startup that’s suing the state in federal court for allegedly failing to even grade its application to get a lucrative dispensary license.
The suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, claims the partners in EDBQ LLC have repeatedly and unsuccessfully requested their application scores from officials in the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the agency tasked with doling out pot shop licenses. If the application had been scored, the suit holds that EDBQ would have likely received all available points and become a finalist to open a dispensary.
Two partners later acknowledged that the controversial Republican Bill Fawell is involved with the fledgling firm, though his name doesn’t appear in the lawsuit or the company’s filing with the Illinois secretary of state’s office. Fawell is the uncle of attorney Nathan Nebergall, a cannabis cultivator from Oklahoma who’s listed as one of the company’s registered managers.
While the lawsuit frames many of the current finalists for the next round of pot shop permits as “politically-connected insiders,” Fawell comes from a family that traces its roots to DuPage County’s original settlers and has sent members to Congress and the state Legislature. His cousin, Scott Fawell, most notably served as the right-hand man to corrupt former Gov. George Ryan.
Earlier this year, Bill Fawell ran for Illinois’ 17th Congressional District House seat but lost his primary to attorney Esther Joy King. Rep. Cheri Bustos, the Democrat who defeated King and has controlled that district in northwestern Illinois since 2013, previously beat out Fawell in the 2018 general election.
In the lead-up to that election, Illinois Republicans pulled their support for Fawell over posts on his campaign’s Facebook page that appeared to support conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attack and the 2012 Sandy Hook mass school shooting. More recently, Bill Fawell has used his personal Facebook page to boost unfounded claims about election fraud and the coronavirus pandemic.
Just last week, he posted an alarming caption alongside an article about the far-right Proud Boys’ plans to attend the recent “Million MAGA March.”
“JUST LET US KNOW AND WE’LL BE THERE … ARMED,” Fawell wrote.
He’s also used the platform to praise his cousin Scott Fawell, the son of former state Sen. Beverly Fawell (R-Glen Ellyn) and Bruce Fawell, an ex-judge who once headed DuPage County’s court system. Former Rep. Harris Fawell (R-Ill.) is their uncle.
Scott Fawell became known for his cutthroat tactics as he rose to the rank of Ryan’s top aide. But like the disgraced ex-governor, he was ultimately sentenced to federal prison after being convicted in a public corruption probe.
Bill Fawell didn’t respond to requests for comment.
According to EDBQ’s lawsuit, the firm is led by a military veteran who qualifies as a so-called social equity applicant, a designation created by the state to bolster minority ownership in the state’s overwhelmingly white-led cannabis industry. Having a majority owner that qualifies as both a veteran and a social equity candidate has proved vital, given that the 21 groups that initially qualified for an upcoming lottery to determine the winners of the next 75 dispensary licenses have all received perfect application scores.
While the Sun-Times identified EDBQ’s apparent majority owner as Jerry Freeman, a 70-year-old Navy veteran from northwestern Illinois, his name doesn’t appear in the company’s state filing or the federal lawsuit. The name of Gary Edison Jr., an African-American Army veteran who described himself as a “small-share” investor, is also absent in the filings, though the lawsuit references an organization he leads that helps other veterans access medical cannabis.
Reached by phone, Edison initially advised the Sun-Times to get in touch with Bill Fawell, who he later described as an “organizer” who helped put the applicant group together.
“That’s who I’ve been in contact with,” said Edison, who doesn’t believe Bill Fawell is directly invested in the company. Freeman also acknowledged that Fawell is tied to the company.
Nebergall didn’t respond to questions about Bill Fawell’s involvement.
However, an obituary for Bill Fawell’s father, former DuPage County Airport Director Thomas Fawell, lists Nebergall as his grandson. Another family obituary lists Terry Nebergall as Fawell’s sister.
Though he didn’t file Tuesday’s lawsuit, EDBQ’s attorney Nick Hyde said the company merely wants a “fair shot” at the pot shop license it applied for. An IDFPR spokesman wouldn’t comment on the pending litigation.
Hyde, who works in the Jo Daviess County public defender’s office, sits on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Bill Fawell. The Democrat backed Bustos in this year’s congressional race and ran a losing campaign for the state House of Representative in 2018.
Hyde also didn’t respond to questions about Bill Fawell’s involvement in the pot company.