Thursday, February 11, 2016

The ethics of booze

The ethics of booze



A high-level official at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is leaving his $113,937 post, just days before the release of a long-awaited report into alleged ethics violations at the agency.

Marketing director Jim Short notified the agency of his retirement this week, LCB officials confirmed. Short was one of three LCB officials named in a scathing, confidential report in 2012 by the state Inspector General's office on alleged ethics violations at the LCB.

That report spurred a review by the State Ethics Commission, which is poised to release its much-anticipated findings on the matter. The commission is expected to make its determination public by early next week, according to two sources familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous.

The full ethics report could not be obtained, but The Inquirer has reported that ethics investigators have probed whether top officials at the LCB accepted gifts and favors from vendors and other businesses with an interest in liquor. Those officials include Short; the LCB's onetime CEO, Joe Conti; and former LCB chairman Patrick J. "P.J." Stapleton III.

Conti, Stapleton and Short could not be reached for comment. Robert Caruso, who heads the Ethics Commission, declined to comment.

The ethics probe grew out of a confidential report prepared in March 2012 by former Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner. The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Inquirer, was submitted to Gov. Corbett's office and also referred to the Ethics Commission.

It concluded that Stapleton accepted several gifts from an LCB vendor, including golf outings and about $1,700 worth of alcohol for an annual event at the Hotel Hershey that he helps organize.

The report also determined that Conti frequently attended sporting events, including Phillies games, as a guest of LCB vendors.

As for Short, the Inspector General's Office found that he too accepted gifts, including golf putters, from agency vendors.

Faulkner's report noted that Pennsylvania's Ethics Act bars officials from using their positions to benefit themselves or their families - and that state liquor law makes it a felony for LCB employees and their relatives to receive gifts from vendors. Penalties include firing and possible prosecution.

--Angela Couloumbis

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About this blog

Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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