Breach of trust? Man in pot business invited to local elementary school

Breach of trust? Man in pot business invited to local elementary school »Play Video
Ricardo LeBlanc-Esparza, former principal at McKinney Elementary in Hillsboro.

HILLSBORO, Ore. -- A man who works in the marijuana business was invited into a local elementary school and the visit was caught on camera.

KATU’s On Your Side Investigators started asking questions about the situation and soon after the principal quit.

Ricardo LeBlanc-Esparza is a renowned administrator who's been named principal of the year three times in his 30-year career. For nearly two years he worked at McKinney Elementary in Hillsboro until he abruptly quit in April.

John Moreno, the president of Indie Growers Union in Washington, says his organization is “a seed-to-sale company that extends any services as a one-stop-shop for anybody in the marijuana industry, whether retail or medical."

Basically, if you want to get into the legal weed business in Washington, Moreno says he can help you with financing, armed security, grower training and more. He says he works to keep everything and everyone he deals with above board because he doesn't want the legal pot industry to get a bad name.

"We have a higher standard than Washington state and we do background and investigations," said Moreno.

Moreno shot video while hanging out with Esparza at McKinney Elementary. He says he was invited to the school this spring as part of a deal.

"When he (Esparza) came up to the land and met with us,” Moreno claimed, “he said he was principal, that he could get our program in his school district, that he'd be the first to implement it and that's what made our decision to go ahead and fund his grow operation."

Esparza owns a piece of land in Prosser, Washington that's home to a marijuana grow operation. The operation is run by a company called Cannabliss Organic Gardens. Moreno claims Esparza is getting profits from the grow operation, a claim Esparza denies.

The former principal says he's simply leasing the land to Cannabliss Organic Gardens, which is growing medical marijuana legally.

And the program Moreno referred to? It’s not about pot.

"Part of our organization is we donate from a nonprofit called ABC U.S. Projects, and that's an anti-bullying campaign program,” Moreno said.

"We do have guests in the house, ABC Anti-Bullying is here," Esparza said to a videotaped school assembly, introducing Moreno and people with him as members of the nonprofit group.

Everything was fine, Moreno says, until he tried to fund the anti-bullying effort.

"When it was time for payment, Mr. Esparza asked us to make it to his daughter," Moreno claimed.

Esparza says that's not true, but Moreno says that was the beginning of the end of his business relationship with Esparza.

"We inquired about the program,” Moreno claimed. “And at that point that's when we were informed by the school district that there was no clearance for our ABC program, which we put a lot of money and effort into."

Esparza didn't want to talk to KATU on camera, but he insists he never broke any laws.

He also says Moreno's a liar and he regrets having anything to do with him and points out that Moreno has a lengthy arrest record.

District “never consulted”

"It took us all completely by surprise,” said Beth Graser, a spokeswoman for the Hillsboro School District.

Graser says Moreno contacted them with his allegations about Esparza on April 28.

That's around the same time he contacted KATU, and the On Your Side Investigators started asking questions.

Graser says the district put Esparza on administrative leave as it conducted an investigation. Esparza resigned two days later.

"We were never consulted about any kind of anti-bullying campaign,” Graser said, “or never told about this gentleman or any such organization."

Graser says if there was a deal to set up a program, Esparza would've needed approval for it. In regard to Esparza allowing Moreno on campus, she says principals are given discretion when it comes to visitors and they're expected to use good judgment.

"For those kind of one-time events, we don't require the people to go through background checks," Graser said.

When asked if this situation was a breach of trust, Graser said, "In general, I can say that these types of situations or allegations, of course they would be a cause of concern for us because it's certainly in conflict with our drug and alcohol policy and the types of behavior that we teach and enforce with our students."

Esparza says he resigned because he wanted to help take care of his parents, and he says he never had a reason to cheat Moreno out of money because he already earns a large income as an education consultant and administrator. He insists he did nothing wrong.

The district, meanwhile, recently hired a new principal who will start this fall.

Esparza’s wife is a high-ranking administrator in another local school district. She says she and Ricardo are now separated and that none of this pertains to her.