Republican Leaders Demand Independent Investigation of Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission

Lawmakers seek review of new warehouse deal and bourbon scandal.

Salt on the rim. (Henry Cromett)

Although the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s handling of high-price bourbon has generated the most headlines lately, Republican leaders asked Gov. Tina Kotek today to appoint an independent counsel to investigate not just booze distribution but also a far bigger-dollar issue, the agency’s purchase last year of extremely expensive land in Canby for a new warehouse and headquarters.

“We urge you to launch independent nonpartisan investigations into the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s potential favorable treatment of land acquisitions; and rare liquor distribution,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend), House Minority Leader Vikki Breese- Iverson (R-Prineville) and state Sen. Brian Boquist (I-Dallas) wrote. “It is with an unwavering commitment to full transparency that we request these investigations be conducted by independent outside counsel.”

WW first reported in December that key members of state’s Public Lands Advisory Committee, which weighs in on land acquisitions, took the highly unusual step of voting against the agency’s $40.8 million purchase of a 33-arce parcel in Canby.

Committee chairman John Brown and state Sen. Mark Meek (D-Gladstone) called the price, which was triple what the agency set out to pay, “egregious.” It’s a big part of the reason costs on the project have ballooned.

“We became hostage to the market and that location,” Meek told WW in December. “We were the only buyer who would pay that price for it.”

Related: Critics Say the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission Paid Way Too Much for New Headquarters Property

Since then, Gov. Kotek demanded the resignation of longtime OLCC director Steve Marks and also fired the agency’s distilled spirits director, Chris Mayton, who was the driving force behind building the new warehouse. Mayton was also, as The Oregonian first reported, at the center of the alleged diversion of rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and, on one notable occasion, ended up in a Colorado hospital after a night of cornhole and shots at a liquor industry gathering. '

The lawmakers also want to know the names of those in the Legislature who improperly got bottles of the rare bourbon. “We request OLCC and the Attorney General release the names of all lawmakers who used their position for personal gain, an action which Oregon government ethics laws clearly prohibit,” they wrote. “The keeping of public records is fundamental in ensuring accountability in our government. To preserve public trust, it is imperative the names be released.”

Kotek’s spokeswoman, Elisabeth Shepard, says the Oregon Department of Justice investigation will suffice.

“Gov. Kotek already requested a DOJ investigation into the extent of any wrongdoing at OLCC,” Shepard says.

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