The executive director of Oregon’s liquor control agency announced his resignation on Monday amid a criminal investigation into accusations that top officials had hoarded bottles of top-shelf spirits including rare bourbons that can fetch more than $5,000 on the secondary market.
The official, Steve Marks, wrote in a resignation letter that Gov. Tina Kotek of Oregon had requested that he step down from his position as executive director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
“Because I believe that the governor is entitled to have her own management team, I will honor that request,” Mr. Marks wrote, adding that his resignation would become effective at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
Elisabeth Shepard, a spokeswoman for Ms. Kotek, declined to comment on Monday.
The announcement by Mr. Marks came after an internal agency investigation, made public last week, found that he and five other commission officials had abused their positions by diverting bottles of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and other liquor from a state warehouse so that they could buy them in stores.
A longtime purchasing coordinator told investigators that commission officials had for years requested liquor from the “safety stock,” a reserve supply that was kept at the warehouse to replace bottles that broke in transit to restaurants, hotels and liquor stores.
Commission officials paid market price for the bottles and, according to their interviews with an investigator, either drank them or gave them as gifts, said Mark Pettinger, a commission spokesman.
Pappy Van Winkle bourbon aged up to 23 years and Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel — another bourbon made by the same Kentucky distillery, Buffalo Trace — were the spirits “typically requested,” the purchasing coordinator told investigators.
Pappy Van Winkle bourbons have an exalted, almost cultlike status among whiskey aficionados, who have been known to travel out of state and pay thousands of dollars for a single bottle on the secondary market.
After the findings of the investigation were reported last week by The Oregonian/OregonLive, Ms. Kotek asked that the commission install new leadership and remove the managers and executive leaders “who have taken advantage of their access and authority to benefit themselves.”
“This behavior is wholly unacceptable,” Ms. Kotek wrote. “I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws.”
Governor Kotek also asked Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen F. Rosenblum, to conduct “an independent civil investigation” into the matter and to recommend stronger protocols to ensure the commission follows ethics laws.
But Ms. Rosenblum’s office said in a statement on Friday that the Criminal Division of her agency, the Oregon Department of Justice, was “opening a criminal investigation into the matter involving ethics violations related to the purchase of liquor by some staff of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission” and “possibly others.”
“In light of this decision, the civil investigation requested Wednesday by Governor Kotek will be delayed until the completion of the criminal investigation,” Ms. Rosenblum’s office said in the statement.
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