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Oregon Liquor Control Officials Kept Rare Whiskeys for Themselves, According to an Internal Investigation

Gov. Tina Kotek is calling on the OLCC’s board of commissioners to “remove the managers and executive leadership who have taken advantage of their access”

Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon
Pappy Van Winkle bourbons.
Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Brooke Jackson-Glidden is the editor of Eater Portland.

Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission officials helped themselves to some of the rarest whiskeys and spirits in the state, according to an internal investigation first covered by the Oregonian. The paper obtained the investigation via a public records request and found that for years commission employees have set aside bottles of Pappy Van Winkle — a famously expensive whiskey, often sold for a few hundred dollars legally, depending on the bottle, and in the thousands per bottle illegally — for themselves. The OLCC has yet to respond to multiple requests for comment.

Earlier this year, Gov. Tina Kotek requested OLCC director Steve Marks’s resignation. Marks was one of several directors of state agencies to depart after Kotek stepped into the governorship, including former Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen; however, it was unclear why, specifically, Marks was pushed out.

In the investigation, Marks admitted to repeatedly telling the warehouse manager to reserve bottles for his personal use, including a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s 23-year, which has a suggested retail price of $299.99.

A February 8 letter to the OLCC board of commissioners, written by Kotek, indicated that the administration was aware of ethical violations within the commission. “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,” she wrote. “This behavior is wholly unacceptable. I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws.”

The investigation was triggered after a whistleblower told agency staff last spring that the state warehouse supervisor sent bottles to specific stores for officials to pick up. According to the Oregonian, at least five other officials were involved: deputy director Will Higlin, budget manager Bill Schuette, distilled spirits program director Chris Mayton, office of information services director Kai Nakashima, and chief information officer Boba Subasic.

“I urge 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,” Kotek writes in her letter.

This story will be updated with more information.