Salem, Oregon: The Oregon Department of Justice is opening a criminal investigation into allegations that senior officials in the state’s alcohol regulatory agency violated ethics laws by diverting rare, sought-after bourbons for personal use, the state attorney general said.
The officials were paying for the whiskey, which can cost thousands of dollars a bottle, but they used their knowledge and connections at the commission to obtain them, an internal investigation by the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission concluded.
Oregon Governor Tina Kotek.Credit:AP
The practice had purportedly been going on for many years and involved not only state employees but also members of the Oregon Legislature, according to the investigation.
The officials purportedly had very limited bottles of top-shelf bourbon routed to a liquor store, often in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie where the commission headquarters is located, and would reserve them for pickup later.
It consequently deprived well-heeled whiskey aficionados among the public of the tiny-batch boutique bourbons.
It also violated several Oregon statutes, including one that prohibits public officials from using confidential information for personal gain, according to the commission’s investigation.
Democratic Governor Tina Kotek expressed outrage at the findings and on Wednesday asked the OLCC board of commissioners to fire Executive Director Steve Marks and others who have been implicated.
Kotek also asked Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to conduct an independent civil investigation. Instead, the justice department’s criminal division opened an investigation on Friday, Rosenblum announced, adding that a civil probe would come later.
“The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission will comply fully with the criminal investigation announced today by the Oregon Attorney General,” commission spokesman Mark Pettinger said in an email.
Criminal law involves prosecuting defendants and holding offenders accountable, usually through imprisonment or probationary sentences. Civil law addresses situations in which an economic award or penalty might help remedy a situation.
Chris Mayton, distilled spirits program director, who was one of the people accused of abusing his position, told the OLCC investigator that he had served as a “facilitator” for commission employees and legislators hundreds of times in acquiring the whiskys as part of his work duties.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is in charge of investigating ethics violations by lawmakers. To date, the commission hasn’t received any complaints against legislators about the matter, Executive Director Ronald Bersin said in an email Friday.
Marks has not responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press, but in his responses during the investigation, he denied that he had violated Oregon ethics laws and state policy. However, he acknowledged that he had received preferential treatment “to some extent” in obtaining the whiskey as a commission employee. Marks and the other officials said they never resold the whiskys they obtained.
In another state-level case, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton agreed to apologise and pay $US3.3 million in taxpayer money to four former staffers who accused him of corruption in 2020, igniting an ongoing FBI investigation of the three-term Republican.
Under terms of a preliminary lawsuit settlement filed on Friday, Paxton made no admission of wrongdoing to accusations of bribery and abuse of office, which he has denied for years and called politically motivated.
But Paxton did commit to making a remarkable public apology toward some of his formerly trusted advisers whom he fired or forced out after they reported him to the FBI.
He called them “rogue employees” after they accused Paxton of misusing his office to help one of his campaign contributors, who also employed a woman with whom the attorney general acknowledged having an extramarital affair.
Both sides signed a mediated agreement that was filed in the Texas Supreme Court and will be followed by a longer, formalised settlement.
“Attorney General Ken Paxton accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologises for referring to them as ‘rogue employees,’” the final settlement must state, according to court records.
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