The Oregon Department of Justice is opening a criminal investigation into allegations that top officials at the state’s liquor regulatory agency violated ethics laws by diverting rare, sought-after bourbon for personal use, the state’s attorney general said Friday.

Officials said they paid for the whiskey, which can cost thousands of dollars a bottle, but they allegedly used their knowledge and connections at the commission to get the products, according to an internal investigation by the Oregon Alcoholic Beverages and Cannabis Commission.

The practice is believed to have spanned many years and involved not only state employees but also members of the Oregon Legislature, an OLCC investigator was told.

Consequently, this practice deprived the affluent whiskey aficionados in the population of small-batch boutique bourbons.

He 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 Gov. Tina Kotek expressed outrage at the findings and on Wednesday asked the OLCC board of commissioners to fire Executive Director Steve Marks and others involved.

Kotek also asked Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to launch an independent civil investigation. Instead, the Justice Department’s criminal division opened an investigation, Rosenblum announced, adding that a civil investigation would follow.

“The Oregon Alcoholic Beverages and Cannabis Commission will fully comply with the criminal investigation announced today by the Oregon Attorney General,” commission spokesman Mark Pettinger said in an email.

Criminal law involves the prosecution of defendants and the prosecution of offenders, usually through imprisonment or probation. Civil law addresses situations where an economic reward or penalty can help remedy the situation.

Chris Mayton, director of the distilled spirits program who was one of the people accused of abuse of office, told an OLCC investigator that he served as a “go-between” hundreds of times for commission staff and lawmakers to purchase whiskey as part of his job. responsibilities. He did not name any legislator.

Officials allegedly had very limited bottles of top-shelf bourbon sent to a liquor store, often in the Portland suburb of Milwaukee, where the commission is headquartered, and left for pickup later.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is responsible for investigating ethics violations by legislators. To date, the commission has not received any complaints against lawmakers on the issue, Executive Director Ronald Bersin said in an email Friday.

Marks did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press, but in his responses to the investigation, he denied violating Oregon ethics laws and state policy. However, he admitted that he received “some degree” of preference in obtaining whiskey as a commission agent. Marks and other officials denied that they resold the whiskey they received.

The board of commissioners is appointed by the governor and, in turn, selects the executive director, according to a commission spokesman. The next regular meeting of the commissioners will be held on Wednesday. The agency is the state’s third largest revenue generator.

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