Dispensary owners defend employee facing jail time for probation violation
When Christopher Weldon and his wife, Shirley Shaw-Weldon, decided they wanted to hire Moises Reynaja full-time at their planned cannabis dispensary in White Plains, they did what they do with all potential employees: They ran a background check.
That led to a 2016 arrest warrant for Reynaga, a 33-year-old Stamford, Connecticut, man who was off probation after being convicted on drug charges in White Plains, Connecticut.
The Weldons, whose Cat Rock CAURD LLC is the first in Westchester to receive a conditional adult-use retail dispensary license from New York State, were not surprised or upset by the probation violation.
They went to bat for Reynaga, saying he was a changed man, a talented and compassionate young businessman who was open about his legal troubles. They urged Westchester Judge George Fofidio to show leniency to Reynaga as he considers the probation violation.
“Moe is not a violent criminal,” Shaw Weldon told the judge in a letter last month, adding that he was eager to make amends for his mistakes he committed a decade ago. “He is a sweet, kind-hearted teddy bear who always has a smile on his face.”
But Fovidio responded at a court hearing that that call was misplaced and did not adequately address that Reynaga was a drug dealer who actually got a break and failed to abide by probation rules.
Fofidio gave Renaga a choice to make at his next court appearance on Monday. He can admit to violating probation, in which case Fovidio will revoke probation and resentence him to a year in county jail. Or he can deny the violation. If that happens, the judge said he will hold a hearing and if the violation is proven, he will send Reynaga to state prison.
“I’m not saying I’m going to give you five and a half years,” Fovidio said, according to a transcript. “I don’t think your behavior deserves that, but it’s certainly worth more than your time.”
Michael Romano, Reynaga’s attorney, declined further comment Sunday, but said they are asking the judge to reconsider his insistence on prison time.
Reynaga was arrested on August 8, 2013 in White Plains after police found a plastic bag containing small bags of cocaine totaling 4.3 grams in his car. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of attempted third-degree possession of a controlled substance. This could have landed him in prison for up to 5 and a half years but instead Reynaga was placed on probation for five years.
The arrest prompted Connecticut law enforcement to execute a search warrant at Reynaga’s home in Stamford, where additional drugs were found. He was charged there as well but was again bailed out of prison and sentenced to probation.
His probation in Westchester was transferred to Connecticut. But in 2016, Reinaga left the country to go to Chile without informing his probation officer and then stayed there for several years. Because of his failure to report, an arrest warrant was issued for a probation violation in September 2016.
This was the warrant reported when the Weldens requested a background check — and Westchester County cops showed up looking to arrest Reynaga. He wasn’t there but Reynaga hired a lawyer and surrendered on an arrest warrant in December. He has been held without bail in county jail since then.
Fovidio called it ironic that someone with a drug conviction would be hired at a marijuana dispensary. He suggested that if the intention is for cannabis licenses to go to those who have been harmed by drug laws in the past, better legislation may be needed to ensure licenses do not go to millionaire hedge fund managers, such as Christopher Weldon, who lives in the US. Greenwich Mansions.
The licensee must be “justice involved,” which means he or she, a parent, spouse, child, or other legal dependent has had a prior marijuana conviction. Christopher Weldon qualified because his father, a Vietnam War vet who eventually became a New York City firefighter, was convicted of selling marijuana to an undercover cop in Queens in 1972, 11 years before Christopher was born.
Fofidio said Reinaga was an adult when he was arrested and should not be able to blame anyone else for his criminal activity. He said Reinaga admitted to his probation officer in a presentence report that he was selling drugs to make money and move to Chile and start a business.
“He was selling the poison to other people so he could get money to buy nice things,” the judge said last month.
Xu-Weldon wrote that Reynaga’s parents urged him to go to Chile because he was struggling with his mental health and fell in with the wrong crowd.
She said that due to “unforeseen circumstances” Reinaga did not return from Chile after a short while but eventually returned to help care for his elderly parents. The judge said Reynaga may have feared returning over the years because his probation officer told his family he risked being sent to prison because he left the country without permission.
The Weldon couple said they met Rinaga two years ago when he was working at 914 Exotics, a snack bar near the site they had leased to open their dispensary. It was a digital content creator, which they eventually used to create an introductory video about their business and other projects. They created a digital media position for him and said he would work for them no matter what the judge decided.
Christopher Weldon told the judge in a second letter that Reynaga deserved a second chance.
“All he wants to do is start a life without the sword of Damocles hanging over his head,” Weldon wrote. “He’s 10 years older, wiser and reformed.”
This article originally appeared in the Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Dispensary defends employee facing prison over probation case