Oregon Liquor agency officials used inside knowledge to hoard expensive bourbons

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 2:23 PM PST
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SALEM, Ore. (KPTV) - Oregon Governor Tina Kotek asked for new leadership in Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission Wednesday after requesting the resignation of the head of the organization.

Gov. Kotek said the leaders within the agency, including the director, abused their position for personal gain.

The executive director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, Steve Marks, and five other agency officials were found to have diverted sought-after bourbons, including Pappy Van Winkle’s 23-year-old whiskey, for their own use, according to an internal investigation obtained by FOX 12 on Wednesday through a public records request.

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The investigation found that although the officials were paying for the whiskey, which can cost hundreds of dollars a bottle, they were able to obtain them thanks to their connections and inside knowledge at the commission. As a result, the public was denied access to the pricy liquor.

That, according to the commission’s inquiry, violates Oregon laws, including one that forbids public employees from utilizing private information for personal advantage.

“This behavior is wholly unacceptable. I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws,” Kotek said in a statement. “I urge the commission to install new leadership and remove the managers and executive leadership who have taken advantage of their access and authority to benefit themselves.”

According to the Governor’s statement, leaders in the OLCC admitted to their violations in an internal investigation. Kotek has also asked the Attorney General to conduct an independent investigation.

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While being questioned by the investigator, Marks refuted claims that he had broken state and Oregonian ethical laws. He did admit, though, that as a commission worker, he had “to some extent” benefited from special treatment in getting the whiskey. The whiskeys they acquired, according to Marks and the other authorities, were never resold.

Kotek has requested that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum launch a separate civil inquiry into the scope of any wrongdoing and make recommendations for stricter procedures to make sure ethics laws are upheld.