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The Director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission Resigns Today

Steve Marks, who served as the agency’s top dog for nine years, was implicated in a recent scandal using his position to obtain rare bottles of bourbon

Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon
Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Marks resigns amid an ongoing scandal related to the unethical distribution of rare whiskies among OLCC leadership.
Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Steve Marks, executive director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC), submitted his resignation — effective as of this afternoon at 5 p.m. — on Monday to OLCC’s board of commissioners. “Governor Kotek has requested that I resign from my position as Executive Director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission,” he writes. “Because I believe that the Governor is entitled to have her own management team, I will honor that request.” Marks has served in the role since October 2013.

The state agency is currently embroiled in a scandal after an internal investigation revealed that top officials, including Marks, had diverted bottles of the rare Kentucky bourbon Pappy Van Winkle for themselves, directing them to be sent to specific stores where they purchased them. The Oregonian obtained the investigation findings and broke the news on February 8. Kotek, who has been overhauling leadership at several state agencies since taking office in January, asked for Marks’ resignation prior to the investigation going public.

Pappy Van Winkle is typically only available for sale in Oregon via lottery system, and although it retails between $70 and $300 depending on its age, it can go for thousands of dollars on the resale market. Agency officials have denied reselling the liquor, claiming that they gifted the bottles or kept them for personal use.

Last Friday, the Oregon Department of Justice announced that it would launch a criminal investigation into OLCC staff “and possibly others” involved in ethics violations related to the purchase of liquor. The criminal investigation will take priority over a civil investigation that was requested by Governor Kotek on February 8.

Other top OLCC officials implicated by the agency’s Human Resources investigation are deputy director Will Higlin, budget manager Bill Schuette, distilled spirits program director Chris Mayton, chief information officer Boba Subasic, and Kai Nakashima, director of the office of information services. Records show that the employees were reprimanded, although to what extent is unclear. OLCC spokespeople have not responded to Eater Portland’s inquiry regarding the status of their employment.

“After requesting the head of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s (OLCC) resignation, my administration became aware that leaders within this agency, including the director himself, abused their position for personal gain per their own admission in an internal investigation,” Kotek wrote in a letter to the OLCC’s board of commissioners. “This behavior is wholly unacceptable. I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws.” Kotek has asked the OLCC’s board of commissioners to replace all of the accused agency leaders.

Governor Kotek has recommended Craig Prins to serve as interim director of the OLCC, which agency members will consider today. Prins has more than 25 years of experience in criminal justice and public safety and has previously served as inspector general for the Oregon Department of Corrections and executive director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. According to a press release from the governor’s office, the search for a permanent executive director will begin “in the coming weeks.”