Earlier this month, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek (D) asked the head of the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) to step down and last week the state Department of Justice announced it is opening a criminal investigation into OLCC officials who allegedly diverted scarce bottles of Kentucky bourbon for their own use, the Seattle Times reports.
The practice has allegedly been common at the agency during the entirety of Steve Marks’ tenure. In his February 13 resignation letter, Marks wrote that he was stepping down as requested because he believes “that the Governor is entitled to have her own management team.” His resignation takes effect today at 5:00 p.m.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum last week opened a criminal investigation into “the matter involving ethics violations related to the purchase of liquor by some staff of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) and possibly others.”
During the investigation, Marks admitted he had asked a warehouse manager to “divert warehoused liquor for his personal use” several times, and that he had specifically sought Pappy Van Winkle’s 23-year-old whiskey, according to the Times report. The suggested retail price for the rare spirit last year was $299.99; however, bourbon connoisseurs said it could sell for $2,000 to $4,000 on the illegal market. Marks and the five other officials implicated in the scheme said they had whiskey sent to a liquor store, where they purchased it and kept it for personal use or used it as gifts.
The liquor is so sought after and limited that Oregon holds lotteries for consumers. According to the OLCC, the odds of winning the lottery for the 2021 vintage of Pappy’s in 2021 was 1 in 5,373, the report says.
Chris Mayton, the director of the distilled spirits program, told the human resources investigator that he has taken orders for particular, hard to find, spirits “hundreds of times” including from state lawmakers.
In a report on the diversion scheme, Travis Hampton, a retired Oregon State Police superintendent who works for the OLCC human resource department, said Mayton had secured bottles of rare liquor for “scores of employees, from warehouse workers to executive managers,” including Marks.
Kotek has called the conduct “wholly unacceptable.”
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