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Oregon Republican lawmakers ask Gov. Kotek for special counsel to look into bourbon scandal

The front of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission headquarters. Sign on wall reads "OLCC."
Kristian Foden-Vencil
The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission has been under scrutiny due to a scandal involving rare specialty bourbons.

Oregon Senate Republicans are asking Gov. Tina Kotek to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal surrounding top executives and managers at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, who diverted specialty bourbons away from public consumption for their own personal use.

The Republican legislators also want to know who received specialty liquor.

“In recent months, there have been multiple reports that lawmakers, public officials, and management at the OLCC had benefited from the diversion of bottles of high-end, rare liquor,” reads the letter lawmakers sent to the governor. “Most recently, in mid-March, three top OLCC officials were fired for their involvement, leaving us with more questions than answers.”

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, asked his colleagues to imagine if the state — the governor and legislators — were controlled by Republicans.

“Would you be comfortable with those Republicans essentially investigating themselves?” Knopp said. “I don’t believe the public is going to believe an investigation that is not independent.”

After speaking on the Senate floor, Knopp told OPB that Republicans have been told there’s a list somewhere of the public officials who received rare liquors as preferential treatment. He said he believes the OLCC generated that document.

Steve Marks, who was the OLCC director at the time of the scandal, resigned under pressure. Craig Prins, inspector general for the Oregon Corrections Department, is now serving as the interim head.

According to an internal agency investigation last year, Marks and five top OLCC managers used their positions to reserve bottles of hard-to-find bourbons, which they purchased for themselves or saved for others, as The Oregonian/OregonLive first reported. The Oregon Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

The OLCC distributes all liquor sold within the state, and it brings in a lot of money doing so. The agency is Oregon’s third-largest source of revenue, after income taxes and the lottery.

“It is with an unwavering commitment to full transparency that we request these investigations be conducted by independent outside counsel,” the letter from Republicans to the governor reads.

The OLCC has been working to build a new warehouse and headquarters. The scandal has also renewed a desirefrom some Republicans to take a closer look at that project.

Dirk VanderHart contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lauren Dake
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