Police have determined that the death of Tushar Atre, the 50-year-old owner of digital marketing company AtreNet Inc, which counts several Silicon Valley companies among its clients, was a homicide.
Atre was abducted from his beach house in Santa Cruz, California, at about 3 am Oct 1. He was found dead in his white BMW at another property he owns about 15 miles away, at Soquel San Jose Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“He was shot, it’s a homicide case,” Ashley Keehn, Santa Cruz sheriff’s spokesperson, confirmed to indica. “We are looking into every avenue why this would happen.”
Keehn said there was at least one other person in the house at the time of the abduction, though it is not clear if the person was in the same room as Atre. This person is believed to have called 911. She confirmed that investigators are looking for more than one abductor.
The sheriff’s spokesperson said the abduction and murder was a rare happening and many people are shocked that something like this could happen. “That is part of the reason we are determined to find out who is responsible,” she said.
Asked whether the killers were from the US or could be foreign nationals, she said nothing is known as yet, but the police are looking into all the possibilities.
Atre, who was unmarried but had family, had also entered the newly legalized cannabis business in California and was co-owner of Interstitial Systems, a Santa Cruz-based licensed cannabis manufacturer and dispensary that had opened recently.
The sheriff’s spokesperson refused to say, however, if this could have had any connection with the case, only saying that all angles are being explored.
She did, however, agree that the business is still largely a cash business, and while it is now legalized and regulated, there are people still involved in the illegal trade. “There are new businesses popping up all the time. We are new to all of this and are still learning about it,” she said.
Grant Palmer, CEO of CannaCruz, which runs two cannabis retail shops in Santa Cruz and Salinas and is also a production company, told indica that while he had never met Atre, people working at Atre’s office were among his clients and did not have a positive opinion about him.
Palmer said many Asians are among cannabis users. “It’s legal in California and computer programmers like cannabis, people who do coding,” he told indica. “A lot of them say it helps them stay focused. And a lot of Indians are my clients. A lot from Silicon Valley have moved to Santa Cruz [about 25 miles from San Jose and Silicon Valley], because San Jose is expensive. Many who work in San Jose live in Santa Cruz. Indians are definitely my clients.”
Palmer also said this is still mostly a cash business, as it used to be when it was illegal, and payment has to be prompt, otherwise people get upset because they think you plan to cheat them. “If you don’t pay right away, it’s taken as a sign you are trying to steal the money. and a lot of people and cultures don’t really get that,” he pointed out.
Typically, you can negotiate a 15-day delay, but longer than that and people get nervous, he said.
Palmer, who has been growing cannabis for the past 17 years, said, “It’s a big industry. The funny thing is there are two kinds, one legal and the other illegal, and the illegal one is still five times bigger and most people are still in illegal; the legal one only started in 2018.”
Today there are over 3,000 companies in the business that did not exist in 2017. They have popped up in the past two years and the retail stores are called ‘dispensaries’ based on license—retailer, distributor, manufacturer, cultivator or testing lab.
He said except for the lab testing CannaCruz offers all other services. There are companies that dominate the market and a lot of new capital has come in from Canada which had made cannabis legal earlier and where these companies have even had IPOs.
He said people like Atre, who made their millions in other industries and now want to get into cannabis, really have no idea what they are doing. “They get started and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. The etiquette of the cannabis business, he believes, is important, but the way Indians negotiate is unusual and sometimes shocking.
Palmer, though, said he could not be sure if this had had anything to do with Atre’s murder. “People assume if you are in the cannabis industry you are super rich,” he said. “And it is rare but it seems to be an inside job. People, you know, who must have had shot on Atre.”