Oregon DOJ Opens Criminal Investigation into OLCC Ethical Violations

On Friday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum declared that the Department of Justice is initiating a criminal probe regarding the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission for alleged ethical misconduct in the buying of liquor by certain personnel.[0] The announcement follows a letter written by Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek two days prior, in which she asked for a civil investigation into the matter.[1]

The criminal investigation will examine any ethical transgressions that may have occurred concerning the procurement procedures practiced by employees of the OLCC, as well as any other possible parties.[2] Reports from The Oregonian and The New York Times revealed that top government officials at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission had diverted rare whiskeys for their own use.[3]

According to the reports, the officials were paying for the whiskey, which can cost thousands of dollars a bottle, but they had used their knowledge and connections at the commission to obtain them, and consequently deprived members of the public of the spendy booze.[4] This violated Oregon statutes, including one that prohibits public officials from using confidential information for personal gain.[5]

The investigation found that Executive Director Steve Marks and five other agency leaders diverted bottles of high-end bourbons, such as Pappy Van Winkle’s 23, for personal use.[4] The investigation also found that Chris Mayton, who directs the distilled spirits program, told an internal investigator that he procured liquor for others, including unnamed legislators.[0]

In her letter, Kotek described the behavior as “wholly unacceptable” and said she would not tolerate wrongful violations of the government ethics laws.[6] She urged 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.[1]

Kotek's requested civil investigation is on hold until the Justice Department completes the criminal investigation.[0] Rosenblum’s spokeswoman was out of the office Friday and has not yet responded to questions about the scope of the investigation.[7]

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which oversees legislative behavior, said the incident “underlines the importance of having public accountability” and noted that the OLCC will need to rebuild its public trust and adhere to Oregon’s ethics laws.[8]

The criminal investigation into the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission's ethical violations is an important step in ensuring that public officials are held accountable for their actions and that the rights of Oregonians are respected.

0. “Oregon's attorney general to investigate OLCC in bourbon scandal – Portland Business Journal” The Business Journals, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.bizjournals.com/portland/news/2023/02/10/ag-to-investigate-olcc-in-bourbon-scandal.html

1. “Top OLCC officials kept popular booze — including Pappy Van Winkle — for themselves, diverting it from publ” OregonLive, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2023/02/oregon-liquor-control-executives-kept-popular-booze-including-pappy-van-winkle-for-themselves-diverting-it-from-public.html

2. “Oregon lawmakers received exclusive access to rare bourbon” Statesman Journal, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/politics/2023/02/10/oregon-liquor-officials-exclusive-access-rare-bourbon-whiskey-scandal-investigation/69890552007/

3. “Oregon's Whiskey Ring Shows Perils of State Liquor Control” Reason, 10 Feb. 2023, https://reason.com/2023/02/10/oregons-whiskey-ring-shows-perils-of-state-liquor-control

4. “Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum announces criminal investigation into OLCC” KOIN.com, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.koin.com/news/oregon/oregon-ag-ellen-rosenblum-announces-criminal-investigation-into-olcc/

5. “Oregon Attorney General Announces Criminal Investigation of OLCC Rare Liquor Graft” Willamette Week, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.wweek.com/news/2023/02/10/oregon-attorney-general-announces-criminal-investigation-of-olcc-rare-liquor-graft

6. “Oregon Liquor Control Officials Kept Rare Whiskeys for Themselves, According to an Internal Investigation” Eater Portland, 9 Feb. 2023, https://pdx.eater.com/2023/2/9/23592867/olcc-whiskey-corruption-investigation-pappy-van-winkle

7. “Oregon Attorney General launches criminal probe into state liquor regulators – Oregon Capital Chronicle” Oregon Capital Chronicle, 10 Feb. 2023, https://oregoncapitalchronicle.com/briefs/oregon-attorney-general-launches-criminal-probe-into-state-liquor-regulators/

8. “Thirst for rare bourbon led Oregon liquor officials to ‘abuse’ their position” The Guardian US, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/feb/09/oregon-liquor-officials-bourbon-scandal