Where are we with the Bourbongate "investigations"?

Whenever there's a scandal in government, inevitably an "investigation" is "launched." At that point, all accountability stops. Nobody has to answer any questions any more, because the matter is "under investigation." Occasionally the "probe" leads to some significant discipline for wrongdoers. But a lot of times, the matter quietly fades away,  the public forgets, the bad guys walk away with a slap on the wrist, and the full extent of the scandal winds up under the rug.

That cycle seems to be on full display this week with the news that Oregon's shady liquor control agency, the OLCC, has adopted new policies regarding how rare and expensive whiskeys will be sold to customers from here on out. You'll recall that in February, six honchos at the OLCC were caught red-handed reservng bottles of such whiskeys for themselves. They all claimed they never resold a single one at a profit, but there was an "investigation," in fact two of them, started to see what laws may have been broken. One inquiry was by the state Ethics Commission, and the other was by the state Justice Department.

The scandal broke into the media nine months ago. Where do the "investigations" stand now? It shouldn't take any longer than the authorities have already had to discover the facts of who diverted the choice bourbon, who was given first dibs on it, and what they did with the bottles they quietly purchased. According to at least two of the Bourbongate 6, many members of the state legislature were among those benefiting from the diversion scheme.

What laws may have been violated? The ethics commission said in June that there was a "substantial, objective basis for believing" that the six OLCC managers "may have violated" ORS 244.040(1), ORS 244.040(4), and ORS 244.120(1):

244.040(1)  Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, a public official may not use or attempt to use official position or office to obtain financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment for the public official, a relative or member of the household of the public official, or any business with which the public official or a relative or member of the household of the public official is associated, if the financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment would not otherwise be available but for the public official’s holding of the official position or office....

244.040(4)  A public official may not attempt to further or further the personal gain of the public official through the use of confidential information gained in the course of or by reason of holding position as a public official or activities of the public official.

244.120(1)  Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, when met with an actual or potential conflict of interest, a public official shall...

(c)  If the public official is any other appointed official subject to this chapter, notify in writing the person who appointed the public official to office of the nature of the conflict, and request that the appointing authority dispose of the matter giving rise to the conflict. Upon receipt of the request, the appointing authority shall designate within a reasonable time an alternate to dispose of the matter, or shall direct the official to dispose of the matter in a manner specified by the appointing authority.

Violations of those laws could lead to civil fines, but I also suggested here, in my amateur way, that maybe the Bourbongate boys committed crimes as well.

ORS 162.415 (class A misdemeanor): A public servant commits the crime of official misconduct in the first degree if:

(a) With intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another...

(B) The public servant knowingly performs an act constituting an unauthorized exercise in official duties.

ORS 162.425 (class B misdemeanor): A public servant commits the crime of misuse of confidential information if in contemplation of official action by the public servant or by a governmental unit with which the public servant is associated, or in reliance on information to which the public servant has access in an official capacity and which has not been made public, the public servant acquires or aids another in acquiring a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction or enterprise which may be affected by such information or official action.

Meanwhile, this week's story about the policy change is quick to point out that the last two of the identified miscreants – the budget director, Bill Schuette, and the chief information officer, Kai Nakashima – no longer work at the OLCC. That pair couldn't summarily be fired when the scandal broke, because they were protected by state civil service rules. But now, we're told, they're gone, one way or the other. More quickly canned when scandal broke were the CEO, Steve Marks; the deputy director, Will Higlin; the chief information officer, Boba Subasic; and the distilled sprits program manager, Chris Mayton.

Both Schuette and Mayton were apparently former chief financial officers of the OLCC, overseeing the handling of liquor sales revenue of something like $800 million a year. It's beyond alarming when people in that high a position have trouble understanding or living up to their individual ethical and legal obligations.

Mayton is still a city council member in Sandy. LinkedIn says he now works as an organizational consultant for a company in Woodland, Washington. Schuette, who I believe lives in Sherwood, is likely old enough to retire; I can't find anywhere on the internet what he might be doing for a living now. He was the financial face of the OLCC for many years.

Anyway, the shushing that happens when "investigations" are announced has definitely been a part of the Bourbongate story. In July, the ethics commission "paused" its inquiry when it noticed that the criminal "investigation" was also under way. At that point, the public announcement of the criminal "investigation" was nearly five months old: I guess the ethics commission doesn't follow the news.

You know what? I doubt that a full report of what the "investigations" have learned will ever be made public. And it's even more doubtful that the authorities will extend their probes into anything other than the obscene rare bourbon diversion. It's starting to feel like we may never know who else was getting first dibs on the choice bourbons besides the six OLCC honchos who have been so publicly busted. And we'll probably never know what other scams any of that motley crew had going.

Meanwhile, the construction of the OLCC's new platinum-plated warehouse in Canby (huh?) is going full steam ahead. A couple of weeks ago the state borrowed $14 million for the conveyor system that's supposed to go in the new place. That's on top of $86 million previously borrowed to build the building and install tech.

Questions will forever linger about the price that was paid for that land. The state agency in charge of reviewing such purchases called it "egregious." But it happened anyway. God knows what graft may be involved.

But ain't that Salem. The surface of that rug is mighty lumpy.


  1. I find that “Law and Order” in Oregon is often an empty suit. That empty suit seems to be supported by the sycophants in the fourth estate. Maybe the fifth estate will take up the gauntlet.

  2. I think a fun trick was discovered with the Hernandez case - you get some politically connected lawyers to do the "investigation" then don't pay them. The lawyers stomp their feet that they won't turn over the investigation unless they're paid. What a tough situation. No resolution can be found, so I guess the investigation will never be available :.(

    Meanwhile, while payment is delayed, other forms of compensation can be brokered through favors under the table. Because friendship is worth a lot more than some invoice. And I don't see Stoel Rives sending Kotek's office to collections.

  3. The good ol' boys takin' care of the good ol' boys. Forever thus.

  4. Remind me - what vital function does the OLCC serve?

  5. The only point of this scandal was another opportunity for Kotek to stuff the state bureaucracy with her toadies and loyalists. Just like Fagan and every other "revealed" scandal recently.

    Meanwhile OLCC had shut down their chance drawings for high demand bottles and the stuff isn't showing up on their online inventory. Where exactly is it ending up now? Not important.

  6. Way past time for the OLCC to be disbanded. How can it be legal for them to set and control prices?


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