PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced Friday that the Department of Justice is opening a criminal investigation into the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission in connection with ethical violations related to the purchase of liquor by some staff members.
An internal investigation of OLCC 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.
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, the investigation said. And that violated Oregon statutes, including one that prohibits public officials from using confidential information for personal gain, the commission’s investigation said.
“I mean certainly there are governmental ethics rules that apply, and they apply to situations that are much less obvious than this. And then, when you get into actual criminal statutes, there’s laws against official misconduct and misusing positions of public authority,” said attorney Kevin Sali. “I think what’s going to be the bigger issue in this case is just the look and the appearance of this. When the people who are in charge of this are apparently, allegedly doing things that are just clearly outside the bounds, it weakens confidence in the system if that is not dealt with strongly.”
Rosenblum’s office said the civil investigation requested earlier this week by Gov. Tina Kotek will be delayed until the completion of the criminal investigation.
OLCC says they will fully comply with the criminal investigation.
“This incident underlines the importance of having public accountability,” said agency spokesperson Mark Pettinger. “The OLCC will need to work on rebuilding and restoring our public trust … and adhere to Oregon’s ethics laws.”