PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum upped the ante on the state Liquor and Cannabis Commission on Friday, announcing plans to open a criminal investigation into ethics violations regarding liquor purchases made by agency staff and "possibly others."
The announcement comes two days after Oregon Governor Tina Kotek sent a letter to members of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission in which she revealed she learned of ethics violations amongst staff after asking executive director Steve Marks to step down.
“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 the letter Wednesday. “This behavior is wholly unacceptable. I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws.”
Kotek then urged 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.”
“I have asked the attorney general to conduct an independent civil investigation to look into the extent of any wrongdoing and recommend stronger protocols for ensuring ethics laws are followed by OLCC,” Kotek wrote.
The ethics violations in question were revealed the same day by The Oregonian/OregonLive, which outlined how top officials from the commission had long diverted premium booze like Pappy Van Winkle bourbon from the public for their own use, conflicting with state ethics laws.
According to Oregonian/OregonLive reporter Noelle Crombie, the agency learned of the practice in April 2022 after a departing employee sent over his concerns in an email, prompting an internal investigation. What the agency found was that the practice was not only common, but its executive director was a part of the scheme along with his second-in-command and four other managers.
The Office of the Attorney General said that until it completes its criminal investigation of the matter, the civil investigation requested by Governor Kotek on Wednesday will be put on hold.
Representatives for commission could not be reached for comment by press time.
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