The former director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission filed a tort claim notice with the state Friday alleging Gov. Tina Kotek ousted him earlier this year at the behest of La Mota CEO Rosa Cazares. Cazares, her partner Aaron Mitchell, and La Mota contributed generously to Kotek’s gubernatorial campaign.
Kotek forced Steve Marks, who led the OLCC for nearly a decade, to resign in January. In Marks’ Friday tort claim notice filed with the state—a precursor to litigation—he makes a bombshell accusation: that Kotek fired him because Cazares, the 35-year-old CEO of the embattled La Mota dispensary chain, pushed her to do so.
“Marks was summarily forced out of office by Gov. Tina Kotek in early 2023 because Rosa Cazares, prominent owner of one of Oregon’s largest dispensary chains and an opponent of cannabis regulations, wanted him gone,” alleges the claim, submitted by Marks’ attorney, Bill Gary of the Harrang Long firm. “Cazares placed herself in close orbit to the governor and to then-Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.”
Cazares and Mitchell contributed to several Oregon Democrats, including Kotek and Fagan. The couple gave $68,000 to Kotek as she ran for governor. A $10,000-a-month consulting contract between Fagan and the cannabis couple, first reported by WW in April, caused Fagan’s May resignation.
Kotek has repeatedly denied that her relationship with Cazares and Mitchell had anything to do with Marks’ ousting.
But the claim filed Friday disputes that contention—and is the first indication from Marks since he left the agency in January that he believes there’s a link between his firing and the cannabis company. (Kotek has also said that a scandal over the diversion of high-priced Pappy Van Winkle bourbon did not contribute to Marks’ departure.)
The tort claim notice pinpoints a 2018 case, in which the OLCC accused a company controlled by Mitchell and Cazares of diverting weed to the black market. The couple fought that case for two years before settling. Shortly before the settlement in early 2020, Cazares and Mitchell began their generous political giving to the state’s top Democrats.
“In short, because Marks supported and carried out regulations that Cazares saw as onerous, she bought his ouster through financial graft,” the tort claim notice says. “It was under Marks’ leadership that OLCC adopted and enforced the regulatory framework that Cazares sought to dismantle....Accordingly, Cazares turned her sights to removing Marks from office.”
The tort claim notice does not include any new information. Instead, it relies on a timeline of events that, the claim suggests, illustrates Cazares’ influence on Kotek.
A spokesperson for Kotek could not immediately be reached for comment.