Reported by The Oregonian 

Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission employees, managers and directors have been diverting popular bourbon away from the public and keeping them for themselves. This practice is in direct violation of state ethics laws.

A public records request by The Oregonian/OregonLive revealed an ongoing practice within the agency of reserving bottles of the popular bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle, for multiple employees, including the recently ousted executive director, Steve Marks, and his second-in-command, Will Higlin.

Other managers were also named, including Bill Schuette, the budget manager; Chris Mayton, the director of the distilled spirits program; Boba Subasic, the chief information officer; and Kai Nakashima, director of the office of information services. Each was reprimanded for the act. 

The violations were uncovered last April when a departing agency employee documented his concern in an email to agency staff. They explained, “the state warehouse supervisor set aside bottles of bourbon and has them sent to stores so higher-ups can pick them up.” This prompted an internal investigation, which found the practice was common.

Nikki Leslie, manager of the liquor distribution center, said, “The bourbons, which fetch top dollar on the secondary, or illegal, liquor market, had been diverted for at least eight years and involved brands with cult-like followings among connoisseurs, such as Pappy Van Winkle bourbons.”

Gov. Tina Kotek said, “This behavior is wholly unacceptable,” she wrote. “I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our governmental ethics laws.” She urges 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.”

This is not the first time this has happened. In the spring of 2022, The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board found that executives were holding back popular spirits for their consumption, often selling them for a profit. 

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