Kotek Demands House Cleaning at OLCC, Citing Alleged Ethical Violations

After forcing out director Steve Marks, Kotek learned of an internal agency investigation reflecting negatively on senior managers.

(Henry Cromett)

Gov. Tina Kotek wrote a blunt letter today to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission demanding that the commission, which reports to her, clean house.

As WW first reported, Kotek recently pushed out OLCC director Steve Marks, who had led the agency for the past decade, as it moved into the business of regulating cannabis and expanded liquor sales.

Related: Longtime OLCC Director Steve Marks Is Out.

But in her letter today, Kotek told commissioners she’d only subsequently learned of a damaging internal OLCC investigation.

“After requesting the head of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s 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 to the commission.

“This behavior is wholly unacceptable,” Kotek continued. “I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws. 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.”

Although the OLCC investigation has not yet been made public, it is believed to involve the agency’s process for allocating extremely rare and valuable bottles of liquor.

Manufacturers set aside a certain number of bottles for all customers. At the OLCC, some of those rare bottles are allocated to stores, some to bars and restaurants, and some are offered directly to the public through lotteries. (In Oregon, those rare bottles get sold at a fixed markup, just like every other bottle. That can make them vastly cheaper than they would be in states such as Washington abd California, which have privatized liquor sales and where store prices reflect the rarity of the prized bottles.)

The investigation apparently included an examination of whether and how some agency officials in effect set aside valuable bottles for friends and allies.

Kotek signaled in her letter that she wants a second set of eyes on the OLCC’s internal probe.

“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,” she wrote.

OLCC officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story will be updated.

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