An investigation into Oregon’s spirit distribution points to potential inconsistencies in the sale of top-shelf liquor.
Several Oregon Liquor & Cannabis Commission (OLCC) officials have allegedly reserved popular bourbon bottles for themselves for years, according to public records obtained by the media platform The Oregonian. The spirits in question include Pappy Van Winkle (ranging in age from 10–23 years old), Elmer T. Lee, and other in-demand bottles.
Agency officials allegedly asked warehouse employees to set aside bottles of bourbon for their personal use, skirting the state’s lottery system.
These new findings follow a recent controversy involving executive director Steve Marks and deputy director Will Higlin, which was revealed earlier last year. An internal investigation found that Marks set aside bottles of bourbon for himself, violating several of the state’s ethics policies. Marks was punished for his actions in late 2022.
Newly obtained documents indicate a larger number of involved employees than previously believed. A total of six employees were identified and reprimanded, including budget manager Bill Schuette, distilled spirits program director Chris Mayton, chief information officer Boba Subasic, and director of the office of information services Kai Nakashima.
Oregon employs a lottery system to allocate limited-quantity spirit brands and expressions, including the coveted Pappy Van Winkle. When spirits become available, Oregon residents are then selected through a lottery and given the opportunity to purchase the spirit. OLCC employees are disqualified from participating in the lottery, according to the State of Oregon.
Last April, a former OLCC employee sent staff members an email about internal issues with the bourbon lottery. He stated that Oregon’s warehouse supervisor reserved popular bottles, at the request of officials, and allegedly shipped them to stores where OLCC leaders picked them up. The email sparked an investigation, and it was found that OLCC members had participated in this for some eight years. The bottles are believed to be part of the state lottery’s extra stock, in case bottles are broken en route.
Oregon governor Tina Koteck addressed the investigation in a Feb 8. letter to OLCC leaders, according to Oregon-local news network KGW8. She had become aware of the widespread conduct after initially asking lead Marks to resign, but didn’t address specifics of the investigation:
“This behavior is wholly unacceptable. I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws,” she stated.
In the memo, she asked the OLCC to implement new leadership and further examine the organization for any more wrongdoings or ethical violations.