While Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was taking steps to influence Florida cannabis policy and implement rules that regulate the cultivation of hemp, her fiancee’, Jake Bergmann, created a web of companies with people and organizations that have a professional interest in the cannabis and the hemp industry.
Several of the people involved with the businesses have connections to Nikki Fried, including Fried’s father, Ronald Fried. Also, one of the companies is registered at Fried’s personal residence.
Another company is registered at the address of The Rubin Group. The Rubin Group donated $5,000 to Fried’s PAC in 2018 and is the registered legislative lobbyist for the medical marijuana company originally founded by Bergmann.
Publicly available records show that Jake Bergmann has teamed up to form a cannabis related business venture with Ronald Fried and Hali Utstein, the wife of David Silvers – a Florida state representative.
Bergmann is also registered as an officer of a business along with Zachary Kobrin, a cannabis attorney with the law firm of Akerman LLP.
The corporations were created after Fried was elected to statewide office in 2018 and after Bergmann stepped down as CEO of Suterra, the medical marijuana company he founded and is now named Parallel.
After her election victory, Fried began sharing a home with Bergmann in Northeast Tallahassee. Bergmann is still legally married, however divorce proceedings began in April 2019 and a trial is scheduled for June 2021.
Commenting on their relationship recently, a Fried spokesperson said, “Commissioner Fried and her fiancé are family, and are in a committed relationship as they are in the process of getting married….”
In her elected position, Fried has publicly advocated for the legalization of marijuana. In addition, Fried has taken steps to influence public policy related to the cannabis and the hemp industry.
In February 2019, Fried announced her appointment of Holly Bell as the Director of Cannabis. A press release stated that Bell’s role would be to “oversee the development of rules, work directly with scientific experts, and ensure Commissioner Fried’s vision for cannabis in Florida continues moving forward.”
The statement also indicated that Bell would “work closely with the Department’s Division of Plant Industry on developing Florida’s hemp industry, including the production, processing, inspecting, and manufacturing of industrial hemp, and will assist in implementing the new Farm Bill as it relates to industrial hemp.”
In June 2019, Fried announced a newly-created Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee. The press release noted that the purpose of the committee was to “collaborate with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to help improve the state’s medical marijuana policies.”
“I’m proud to establish the medical marijuana advisory committee to help expand patient access, and to advance and modernize policies to move Florida into the future of medical marijuana,” stated Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Tallahassee Reports has reached out to Fried’s office for comment on Bergmann’s business relationships and possible conflicts of interest. We have yet to receive a response.
The Iconoclast Companies
According to state records, Bergmann is associated with three businesses registered in the state of Florida using some variation of the name Iconoclast. But before the Iconoclast cluster of businesses were registered, Bergmann registered a company in Nevada.
On January 24, 2019, two months after Nikki Fried was elected, Bergmann registered a corporation named Tatooine, LTD in Nevada. Bergmann is listed as the President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Director.
Why Nevada? One reason maybe the noted advantages to forming an LLC in Nevada. These advantages include ease of registration, relatively low corporate taxes and lack of state taxes. Nevada also offers strong privacy protections to business owners and a business-friendly environment.
Two months after Tatooine LTD was created in Nevada, on March 8, 2019, Iconoclast Ventures was registered in Florida. The “MGR” of the company was listed as Tatooine, LTD with an address of 450 E Las Olas Blvd, #1250, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301.
The address is the same address used by The Rubin Group.
The Iconoclast Ventures website list the founding partners as Bergmann, Ronald Fried, and Hali Utstein. Bergmann is listed as the CEO, Ron Fried as the Chief Operations Officer (COO), and Utstein as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).
The website indicates that Mr. Fried holds a Florida real estate sales associate license and has provided Broker Price Opinions (BPOs) and has listed and sold Florida properties on behalf of Freddie Mac and numerous national private Real Estate Owned (REO) management and real estate firms. Fried most recently was engaged as an operational and compliance consultant for a Florida licensed mortgage lender.
According to the website, Utstein is responsible for managing the company’s brand, facilitating investor relationships and collaborating with partners to drive revenue.
Utstein is also identified as a key investor across multiple industries, including CB Collective and One Hemp Brands and serves on the board of directors of One Hemp.
The registration of Iconoclast Ventures came during the 2019 session when a bill to related hemp was being considered by the Florida Legislature.
When the Florida Legislature passed the bill in May 2019, Fried said, “Today’s historic vote is eighty years in the making — Florida is now on the verge of establishing a state hemp program and creating a multi-billion dollar industry.”
Ultimately, the hemp bill was signed into law by Governor DeSantis.
Shortly after registering Iconoclast Ventures in May 2019, it appears that Bergmann met up with his business partner, Utstein and her fiance at the time, Florida state representative David Silvers, in Israel. This is took place during the same time that the Florida Cabinet – including Nikki Fried – held a meeting in Israel.
It was reported that Utstein, Silvers, and Bergmann held meetings with Dr. Igal Louria-Hayon, Director of the Medical Cannabis Research and Innovation Center at the Rambam Health Care Campus.
On January 9, 2020 Iconoclast Inc. was registered in Florida as a not-for-profit corporation. The directors listed were Robert J. Bergmann, Elizabeth A. Bergmann, and Zachary Kobrin.
The business is listed as a non-profit with a principle address of 5307 Pimlico Drive Tallahassee, FL 32309. The principle address is the home Bergmann shares with Fried.
Six months earlier, it was announced on June 10, 2019, that Kobrin was one of Fried’s appointments to the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee that Fried created to “collaborate with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to help improve the state’s medical marijuana policies.”
According to the Akerman website, Kobrin has served as General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer for a multinational cannabis company and currently advises cannabis and hemp industry clients on legal, regulatory and business development issues.
He is also listed as a team member of the Akerman Cannabis Practice that boasts the practice is ranked nationally as one of the top firms in Cannabis Law by Chambers USA.
According to their website, Akerman’s cannabis related clients include cannabis investment funds, cultivators, processors, dispensers and distributors, and suppliers of ancillary products and services.
When contacted by TR, Kobrin said he was Mr. Bergmann’s lawyer and declined to discuss their business relationship. This revelation means that Fried appointed her fiance’s lawyer to the medical marijuana advisory committee she created.
Less than three months after registering Iconoclast Inc., Iconclast One was registered in Florida on March 27, 2020 with R. Jacob Bergmann and Hali Utstein listed as Managers.
Repeated attempts to contact Utstein failed.
TR will continue to reach out to individuals related to the businesses associated with Mr. Bergmann.