“If You Are An Entrepreneur Arizona Is The Place You Want To Be” The Ron Johnson Story
The true-life story about how Ron Johnson fought to keep his dream alive after years of experiencing pathological patterns of institutional racism when people in power who run the licensing issuing agencies in Arizona, overstepped their duties by trying to vilify and falsely jail him in a failed effort to destroy his name and his brand to keep him from competing in the alcohol business.
Like many inventors, creators and entrepreneur’s, I am a person who strongly believes in order to live the lifestyle of my dreams I must stand on my own two feet, be accountable for my daily actions. I wasn’t very old when I first discovered if I wanted something no matter how big or small it was up to me to make it happen. Out of necessity, related to the circumstances from my upbringing I soon developed the gift to create what I needed and wanted.
The secret to success for me was developing the ability to create, for the most part I learned by trial and error. Just like the results of every great invention created throughout history will testify it all starts with an idea that develops into a big dream, coupled with actions, laser like focus and keeping the end in mind, but the key ingredient to achieving, is relentlessly believing in the ability to make the dream happen. A slight variation to the above mentioned formula could yelled a less than desirable result in other words your dreams could quickly materialize as your worst nightmare.
Everyone has the capability to come up with a great idea and develop it into to a dream, but few possess enough tenacity to manifest the dream into the physical world. The purpose of my story is not to brag rather to share my ups and downs of my journey, during the creation of my award winning Naturell line of alcohol formulations, a 10 year plus undertaking from the flicker of the idea to the manifestation of over 1000 formulations into the physical.
When I first set out to blaze a new trail in the spirits industry by launching my own luxury cocktail brand and controlling my own distribution, even though I was limited in everything from resources to support. Somehow I knew it was ok to think outside the box and follow my dreams without being afraid. And because I had to go up against larger and more experienced companies, I stayed at the drawing board coming up with new products that would alleviate problems within alcohol that the competition had not solved, products that are simply better.
Having the foresight to see where the alcohol industry was eventually going my vision was clear, if I succeed great, but if I failed, I was already prepared to get back to the drawing board because I know my best was not good enough. As it turns out my best was good enough as I had created Naturell the world’s first inter-mixable cocktails, an ultra-exclusive luxury brand with infinite possibilities, something consumers could only dream in the past. My luxury cocktail brand allows consumers to enjoy any one of thirty, different ready to drink luxury cocktails at any given time. Even more appealing to the consumer is being able to freely switch between these luxury cocktails, or mix select ones together, creating over 810 different luxury cocktails, without the consumer ever changing brands and without any of the expected repercussions!
After ten years of research and development my hard work and dedication had paid off. I am so proud to say in 2009 the world took notice. One of my formulations took a bronze medal in the prestigious, San Francisco Worlds Spirits Competition, it is important to understand the magnitude of the players in this competition, my one formulation was competing against hundreds of well-known brands, placing third only behind an internationally known brand that’s been on the market since the 1860’s.
I often think about the powerful opportunity that lays before me, just imagine if one of my formulations could compete and win in such a competitive competition what will happen when the time is right and I unleash my other formulations of the world’s first proprietary line, of inter-mixable cocktails, one brand, 50 blends, 810 different cocktail combinations that competes in “six of the eight spirits categories” which include Cocktails, Rum, Vodka, Whisky, Brandy and Cordials plus Champagne and Wine. Let me tell you nothing will stop my dream, I am preparing to take the market by storm, times changed and we believe cocktails should too!
After becoming publicly recognized by my peers and now ready to hit the market by introducing Naturell the world’s first inter-mixable cocktails to the 120 million Americans who consume beverage alcohol. I reached out to local distributors who by the way, all refused to meet with me let alone work with me. It’s was clear I wasn’t accepted into “The Good Old Boys Club”.
From my point of view my options were clear, I could alleviate the middleman and maintain total control of my brand by self-distributing or keep begging distributors to carry my brand, and risk having the Naturell brand buried by distributors, who are generally given the exclusive rights of master distribution, they are known to contract the distribution of a brand and purchase the minimum requirement necessary to complete the obligation and then hold it off the market to keep the product from competing with the distributors other products of like type in the state. This practice is commonly referred to as “burying the brand”, a practice that help keep major brands expending by detriment the small sized brands from competing.
As a lifelong entrepreneur, by most standards I would be considered far from traditional, my brain is simply not wired to rely on the typical 9 to 5 or simply put, working hard to make someone else rich. I am the type of person who is totally obsessed with following my passions to build a life of luxury as defined by me. Throughout my life I have accomplish many of my dreams by taking big risk and pursuing my dreams with no excuses and with a lazier like focus.
Regardless of the obstacles placed in my path, as you continue reading it will become crystal clear I am unafraid to fight for my rights and never will I let anyone dictate my future, control my dreams, or tell me what I can or cannot do in America “The Land Of The Free.” My hope is to encourage others to dream big and never give up no matter how long or tough the going gets.
As a self-proclaimed visionary one of the most psychologically devastating, obstacles to face or deal with is the possibility of a dream you have natured every step of the way, die before it gets to the market, not because of your own mistakes or lack of action, no what I am talking about is being stonewalled for no apparent reason by the actions of another. In this particular case I am referring to the AZ Department of Liquor.
As the story goes my real troubles didn’t start during the creation of my Naturell Luxury Cocktail brand it started, the first day I applied for my wholesale license in 2009. For those not familiar the alcohol industry, in order to sell my product I would need to contract with one of the alcohol distributors in Arizona, from researching other avenues of distribution after failed attempts to meet with several of the top distributors, new ideas started to pop in my head, like why not cut out the middle man and keep my brand under my control.
This idea could be accomplished by obtaining my own wholesale license, and gave birth to my distribution company called Llerutan, formed purely for the purposes of the distribution of the Naturell product line. So the next step was to apply for my wholesale license. In order to accomplish the task at hand, I hired a highly recommended alcohol attorney, I paid him $4000 upfront to handle the application process. After being disappointed in his lackluster results on what should have been a smooth process and his suggestion of selling my alcohol brand, I fired him, and withdrew my liquor license application. After careful research and consideration I decided to handle the process of securing my liquor wholesales license myself and from that point forward the drama started, that eventually led to my arrest and over six years of hell!
My first meeting went something like this, on 11/12/09 I fill out all the required paper work for my liquor wholesales license, I disclose that I will be distributing the Naturell product line and I am also the creator and owner.
I was quickly told I could not be a distributor and a brand owner, I explained that based on my research I was not able to find any such law and would kindly like for them to show me where specifically this is stated so I could understand why I was being turned down. Long story short there was no such law and after a lot of drama after delivering the letter below to the then director of the Arizona Dept. of Liquor, about my disappointment in what has been an unpleasant and strange process. On 04/12/2010 I received several recorded messages saying my alcohol wholesales license was ready to be picked up, from the very same official at the license issuing agency who once told me I would never get it.
March 29, 2010
Director AZ Dept. of Liquor License & Control
800 West Washington, 5th Floor
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Dear Mr. Director,
Since applying for a wholesales license on 11/12/09 I have complied with all of your department’s requests. As a common courtesy, I provided a copy of my business plan so that you would better understand and appreciate my history, as well as that of my business. I am aware that it is the responsibility of the investigation process to determine my qualification for such a license. I do understand and respect the regulations, principles, and guidelines of the application process. I am, however, greatly disappointed in the length of time this process is taking.
My application process has been a very strange one. I have been served not one, but two separate subpoenas. I have satisfied them both in a timely manner. No wrongdoings had been determined with the information I provided for the first subpoena. I was then served with a second subpoena, and again no problems were found with the information I submitted. In fact, before accepting my retainer my current attorney had an independent source review all of my documentation, which was again found to be in order.
I was then asked to bring an associate of mine to the last meeting he was asked several times if he had anything to do with my organization, and each time he stated he did not. In light of being unable to determine any wrongdoings, I was then informed that I would be served a third subpoena and that I would keep being served until some wrongdoings were found. I was then told that the Attorney General’s Office would be contacted and that I was now being investigated for creating my brand, where I came from and how I got this far with Naturell. In addition, I was asked for copies of my formulas, which are trade secret, and would consider that an infringement of my patent and trademark rights and this I am not prepared to do.
With all due respect, I am aware that my situation is unique, and as such, am OPEN to the involvement of any additional agencies if it will help expedite the process and ensure my civil rights. I created the Naturell alcohol brand to make a living. Naturell has been public knowledge since 2005. Everyone from /////////////////////////, ///////////////////////, and ////////////////////////// to countless dignitaries from around the world has known about my brand for many years. As a potential investor, your friend ////////////////////////////// set up a private meeting between you and me. I even provided you with a sample bottle. I find it absurd that I am now being investigated for creating my brand as well as where I come from because I applied for a wholesaler’s license.
My brand was not created underground and I have not broken any laws. All of my documentation is and has been in order since day one, including my financials. I have worked very hard for many years to make sure that I have followed ALL rules and regulations every step of the way to make my dream a reality – the launch of the Award Winning Naturell Luxury Cocktail Brand.
Mr. Director, from reading this letter you are well aware that my rights have been violated. It seems that the hurdles I am facing seem to be never ending. As director of the Dept. of Liquor License & Control as a courtesy, I am informing you that I am passing this matter on to my legal counsel.
From the first appointment onward after seeing contempt from people who controlled the license issuing agencies, I began to prepare for my would be oppressors because I know that in such a high stakes business such as the distribution of alcohol and being the sole owner of the world’s first inter-mixable alcohol brand the stakes were very high, and one never knows how far the corruption is rooted and what lengths the “powers that be” would take to keep the colored competition out. This is why I begin keeping a documented detailed timeline of everything and everyone including meetings with special agents form the Arizona Attorney General’s office, hundreds of emails, time stamped documents, recorded exchanges from my office as well as those that took place at the AZ Department of Liquor.
Eager to get on with launching my brand having just won a bronze medal at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition, and already having contracts in place with a local distillery that I paid in advance to produce my luxury cocktail brand, I sent out a worldwide press release about the brands launch. I launched websites and ran 47 commercials on BET, ESPN and TNT in the Arizona market, all in anticipation of Naturell Luxury Cocktails hitting the market.
Long story short here we are in 2015, the Arizona Dept. of Liquor, has constantly disrupted my business from day one, by repeatedly over stepping their duties to vilify and demonized me in an effort to destroy my name and my brand. To date my brand was never launched due to supporting businesses wanted nothing to do with me after the Arizona Dept. of Liquor led them to believe they were doing business with a criminal. To my amazement, I found out they were monitoring my internet activity, they even went as far as contacting some of the people I was communicating with hoping to find something they could use against me. These actions forced me to start all over again and make new business connections and obtain new confidentiality agreements, production capabilities and pricing with new distillers in preparation of launching my brand.
Then out of the blue and without warning, on 01/23/2014 while I was cooking breakfast I heard someone banging on my door, when I opened it I was arrested. Talk about embarrassment and humiliation how would you like it if seven officer in tactical gear show up at your door and take you from your home, just before your birthday celebration, not to mention when I asked what I was being arrested for they stated they really didn’t know, other than it was for something that happened in 2009-10 and they were told I was a priority bring me in immediately.
Oh and guess what, I don’t live in a single family home I live in a high-rise so there was no keeping this a secret, the seven officers check in at the front desk ask for my condo number and were let up by the bellman and brought me down in handcuffs paraded me in front of numerous tenants, god only knows what they thought.
It is important to note for anyone faced in a situation like this, if I did not standup for myself when I was falsely arrested and charged, I could have been sent to prison for simply starting a business in the state of Arizona, due to a coordinated effort by the Arizona Dept. of Liquor and the prosecutor’s office with deliberate intent went to extremes to falsely accuse me of crimes, in retaliation for me standing up for my rights. The notion of a colorblind society is really based on a mythology - the idea that as long as the rules are fair, we'll have equality is a false belief. There is no way to have equality of opportunity without having equality of all people.
I’M ANGRY because as a law abiding citizen of America my country of origin, the recent words of Arizona’s governor elect Doug Ducey, echoed loud and clear in his acceptance speech “If you’re an entrepreneur Arizona is the place you want to be.” The only thing he neglected to mention was that you had to have the right skin tone to be accepted into “The Good Old Boys Club,” an informal system by which money and power are stereotypically retained by wealthy white men through real or perceived, incestuous business relationships. A network that purposely and in some cases maliciously try to prevent people of color from being truly successful in the business world, by controlling government institutions and other resources that we need to grow and maintain our self-worth. When we stand up for our rights were perceived as villains and career criminals for thinking outside the box or for going against the grain and dreaming to big when it comes to pursuing our passions and business endeavors.
Equality of opportunity, means that as long as the rules are the same for everybody, then there is fairness. Unfortunately, in my case the rules were often bent, if not broken, and you can't talk about having a fair shot in the game if the starting line is staggered. Until we recognize that there is really no way to talk about equality of opportunity without talking about equality of people, then we are stuck with this paradoxical idea of a colorblind society in a society that is totally unequal by color.
I’M EMBARRASSED because when colored politicians asked me to sponsor their charitable events I was more than happy to assist in any way I could to do all I could to make their events successful.
When it came to fighting for my rights when I was trying to obtain my alcohol wholesales license I sought their support and was told by a now former State Representatives, that “we meaning him and the other colored politicians do not like outsiders coming from other states (meaning me being a transplant from Chicago) and doing business in Arizona without their consent.”
A syndrome which I refer to as the “Crabs in a barrel mentality”, pulling down and denigrating others rather than uplifting them to help overcome obstacles to get on with the pursuit of their dreams.
Back in the day there were house and field Negroes. Today in some ways we need our modern day house and field Negroes working together to give each other balance. There’s nothing wrong with being in the house or out in the field as long as you’re there for the right reasons and doing the right things with your power. Many so-called “house Negroes” during slavery were crucial in helping other slaves revolt against the master.
Harriet Tubman once said “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.
I’M CONFUSED because when I was forming my businesses, one that has the capability to create over a hundred jobs and put Arizona on the map by having the world’s first of its kind award winning alcohol brand produced in the state. I knew it would come with a heavy price meaning ten years of hard work developing my formulas and turning them into an award winning name brand. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined going through the psychological challenges as I have because of it.
The Arizona Commerce Authority did not offer me any tax credits. I was told by people who constantly abused their power during recorded conversations that I would never get a license to distribute my brand. I was also told that because I applied for my alcohol wholesales license I was being investigated for previously breaking the law and would continue receiving subpoenas until wrongdoings were found.
The thought of me having the intellect to build a spirits company that controls the distribution of its award winning cocktail brand is something they cannot fathom. If you’re a person of color and you start winning too much they change the rules for blazing new trails in the spirits industry and trying to create jobs. They decided to violate the (False Claims Act) by discrimination and engaging in unlawful tactics of intimidation to prevent me an “American citizen” from making a living by trying to stop me from obtaining my license. When their efforts failed and I still managed to get my license they had me falsely arrested at my home in front of my neighbors and jailed on trumped-up charges.
I AM HOPEFUL because I know that dreams are real I also know that anyone can do or achieve anything they put their mind to. As an entrepreneur who pursues his passions and chases his dreams with no excuses, I cannot nor will I let my dream die do to any obstacles. “Times Change I Believe Cocktails Should Too”. “The Time Is Now” for a new resource-rich luxury spirits brand not bound by the chains of corporate history or white supremacy to take advantage of the current state in the alcohol industry. No longer will I remain brainwashed by people in power and colored politicians who take backseats to what’s happening to us.
Being me the best way to predict my future was to create it because I realized a long time ago when someone gives you something, they can always take it away. In that context, you always remain vulnerable to those who control you. Slaves did not revolt so modern day people of color would have to beg someone to give them a better opportunity. The fact is, if you want something in a competitive world, you have to position yourself to go to battle and TAKE IT. Stand up, fight for what you believe in and don’t let anyone stop you just as I have and will continue to do. “You can't hold a man down without staying down with him.” ~ Booker T. Washington.
I have not broken any laws, the only thing I am guilty of is being fearless in the pursuit of my dreams. As evidence of my innocence, for my trial which was orchestrated I provided my attorney with emails, time stamped documents and many recorded exchanges that took place at the AZ Dept. Of Liquor, contradicting every one of the charges they have leveled against me. Including a recording about blackmail. It’s also a known fact they have most of the same information on file, but choose to conceal because they chose to work with the people who tried to blackmail me in the hopes of seeing me jailed to keep me out of the alcohol business. Which further goes to show “this was a campaign that began to ruin me professionally” by intentionally disrupting my business, slandering my name, violating my rights, all to mislead the courts to falsely arrest, falsely imprison and maliciously prosecute me. “Men lie, women lie, facts don’t.”
After a six yearlong investigation in an all-out effort to prevent the launch of my brand, not to mention, the 1 year and four months of being in court, for over six years my business was stonewalled. During my court proceedings, in an effort to find the one who could get the job done, my case was transferred to four different prosecutors.
What’s interesting from a legal perspective is in the end on 04/30/2015 all charges against me were precipitously dropped days before my trial (by jury). The reason given by the forth prosecutor on the case, for dropping the charges, was there was no likelihood of a conviction based on new evidence that surfaced. The ugly fact is there was no new evidence that surfaced, all evidence was known to have existed years before this “charade” began.
I want to be sure that everyone reading this article clearly understands, I never took any of the several plea bargains, the prosecutors offered, despite the threats of multiple years of imprisonment. For many the easy way out would be to take a plea verses facing years of being locked up, but that was not for me, I knew for a fact I did nothing wrong, and I knew the prosecutor had absolutely no evidence supporting the inch thick bogus police report, in addition to the secret file they have on me that lead to the three criminal charges and my arrest.
The truth of the matter is there was no likelihood of a conviction because I hadn’t committed a crime or done anything wrong. The powers that be who were behind this, did not think I would fight tooth and nail, they must of thought I would let them run all over me. The fact is all charges were dropped because their lies started to fall apart and whoever was put in charge of keeping up the lies forgot, when people tell lies, they have to keep making up a bunch of new lies to go with the first ones.
This was supposed to be an open and shut case. What went wrong? We all know, Arizona is a surveillance state data-collecting, processes surveillance is everywhere, wherever you turn, there are video cameras, traffic cameras, mall cameras, parking lot cameras, school cameras, bus and train cameras, restaurant cameras, drone cameras, and citywide camera networks that see everything. I ask am I that good at running my criminal enterprise that no one can catch me doing anything illegal even after six years of being investigated and having my business interrupted and my name slandered.
What appears to be clear is that even with tapping my phones and observing me for years they cannot find anything I have done illegal, without first making it up themselves. I am most certainly not the career criminal, as I’ve been referred, in their reports. What did they expect to find when they fabricated the story about me committing wrong doing in the first place? Little did they know, I grew up in hell and even then, I was not driven to crime by reason of Chicago’s tenement environment and the pressure of racial injustice! I have no felonies past or present, so why was I really arrested and charged for fake crimes I didn’t commit? I firmly believe it was all to keep me out of the alcohol business, remember being the brand owner and the distributor is a powerful position to have.
I am a firm believer that true justice can exist only within the parameters of equality. No one in America should have to go through what I went through for starting a business in America and the Arizona Department of Liquor’s perception that certain things are beyond people of color, or we shouldn’t be doing it is an extremist belief. Their shameful actions will always be remembered by me. I know, because my dream that is ten years in the making still lives within me, constantly striving to emerge. I refuse to be a victim. I will never stop fighting to end injustice. Because if people in power are allowed to become bullies, then America is in grave danger. On 06/08/2015 I meet with the U.S. Dept. of Justice Phoenix branch to file a complaint and to ask them to look into this matter for federal civil rights and other violations.
Nothing is more precious than the stories of people who chase their dreams and despite what some think my life and my dreams matter. Having had to battle for equality all my life, became such a normal occurrence that I almost forgot that I was a victim yet once again.
I am now a sworn enemy of institutional racism and racial oppression in Arizona, a most hateful place that serves to harm and demoralize people of color. My personal commitment and dedication is to make sure what happened to me happens to no one else by fighting, to bring change to the racism in this country that holds many of us back. And by exposing what goes on in Arizona as it relates to institutional racism and racial oppression by sharing my story through the NATLUXMAG online magazine, social media outlets and the book I am currently working on called “LIVE TO DREAM, DREAM TO LIVE” a story of false arrest, lies, and intimidation.
With all I’ve endured over the past six years in my pursuit of the “American Dream”, I remain unbreakable. When I look at the evolution of my experience in Arizona, injustice is always very prevalent and central to my experience. After seeing the lengths they went to try keeping me out of the alcohol business I am expressing my gratitude that there expectations have not been realized.
I am also aware that there are those in power who played a bigger role and are comfortable with my demise. A practices that has been going on for decades, unfortunately history books often erase this prosperous period in black history, never telling how racial oppression made it difficult for blacks to excel financially, sometimes even in their own communities. It is however unfortunate that there is so much corruption and self-righteousness in the “Arizona state run agencies.” While I accept that many sincerely hope for a more democratic Arizona abiding by the principle of procedural justice and the rule of law, the conduct of the Arizona Dept. Of Liquor and the prosecutor’s office tells a different story.
In addition if falsely trying to jail me was not enough, to justify extending my distress someone started rumors that my “award winning” alcohol brand and formulations were not mine with the expectation of putting the final nail in my coffin, to further disgrace me since they thought their lies would end my brand and send me off to jail.
Class is one thing that cannot be bought. Instead of trying to dispel the vicious rumors I responded simply by creating “The Naturell Challenge™” Writers Guild of America, West Registration Number: 1667201. A friendly competition open to professional mixologists who feel their skills are first-rate when it comes to mixology. The challenge, craft a better version of one of my interactive luxury cocktails on the spot. Mixologist can use any of the hundreds of alcohol brands and mixers at their disposal.
Whereas I will be limited to Naturell the world’s first intermixable luxury cocktails that consist of one brand, 50 blends, over 810 different luxury rum and vodka cocktail combinations that competes in “six of the eight spirits categories” which include Cocktails, Rum, Vodka, Whisky, Brandy, Cordials plus Champagne and Wine. The cocktails can even be evaluated via blind taste test by an independent panel. Should any one succeed they will have bragging rights and be acknowledged in my online magazine NATLUXMAG “Trend Setters and Taste Makers™.”
I also recently found out one of the people responsible for spearheading the assault against me and my brand padded my file so that whenever my license is ran during a traffic stop I come up looking like a danger to society, a career criminal. Making it almost certain that whenever and whoever stops me will have a perceived notion they have to deal with me in a aggressive manor which in most cases always leads down a path of no return.
I witnessed this firsthand when I was stopped for an expired registration sticker. The tone in which I was spoken to was as if I just robbed a bank while driving an expensive luxury car. It was comical and at the same time I felt bad for this person who did not know what to think of me. I gave him no reason to continue his overbearing I’m the one in charge tone because I never said a word. At one point I could tell he was wondering why I was not angry for being stopped.
When I was asked for ID things took a turn for the better, once the officer noticed my engineer’s union card he began to speak to me like a human. I hate to wonder how things might have turned out if he didn’t notice my engineer’s union card. When it comes to padding my file I call it a biased use of enforcement one based on racial prejudice, a challenge to public trust, a legal abuse and a threat to the rule of law.