State store sell-off a threat to Lubert-backed firm: report

Simple Brands, a Conshohocken firm backed by prominent supporters of lame-duck PA Gov. Ed Rendell, could lose its monopoly on self-service wine-sales kiosks if Gov.-elect Tom Corbett and his allies who run the General Assembly make good on their promise to sell off state liquor stores in an effort to collect a one-time windfall for the cash-strapped state treasury, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here. Excerpts:

"Manufactured by Conshohocken-based Simple Brands, the machines have been described as Rube Goldberg machines that incorporate a Breathalyzer, identification card scanner and security cameras monitored in real time to prevent purchase by the intoxicated or the under-aged... Simple Brands has placed 35 machines in grocery stores throughout the state and plans to roll out 65 more...

"Simple Brands developed them under an exclusive contract that involved no payment from the commonwealth... The contract has come under fire because Simple Brands was the only bidder and two of its four investors have close ties to Gov. Ed Rendell...

"Investor Herbert Vederman gave Mr. Rendell $346,276, including a $100,000 lump sum in 2002, campaign finance records show. Mr. Vederman also served as the governor's campaign finance chairman. His business partner, Ira Lubert, meanwhile, gave Mr. Rendell $140,980." Lubert runs the Philadelphia-based Independence Capital group of private investment funds, which manages around $12 billion in other people's money, including around $1 billion in PA state pension funds.

"The vast majority of Simple Brands... is owned by Philadelphia businessman Warren Weiner, who operates the clothing store chain Deb Shops. Mr. Weiner, too, is a Rendell contributor, having given a total of $6,000 in 2001 and 2002."

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