Rare bourbon scandal results in OLCC board chair’s resignation

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Paul Rosenbaum, chairman of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, announced Thursday evening that he would step down from the role amid intense scrutiny over the agency’s handling of an internal investigation into employees’ diversion of pricey liquor.

At a board meeting one day prior, Rosenbaum opened with a diatribe defending himself and the board while criticizing the press for publicizing the story.

The internal investigation, which Rosenbaum said he learned about in September, identified a handful of high-ranking OLCC employees as being involved in the scheme. Using their influence at the agency, they set aside bottles of rare and sought-after liquor so that they could buy them up before members of the public could do so.

Rosenbaum said at the meeting that he’d been told these employees had been disciplined according to Oregon statute, and he let the matter go because the information was “confidential.”

The story broke earlier this month when The Oregonian got a copy of the OLCC investigative report through an open records request.

In a statement on Thursday, Rosenbaum said that he’d submitted his resignation at the request of Gov. Tina Kotek, which he received that morning.

Rosenbaum otherwise repeated, in more succinct terms, many of the things that he’d said at Wednesday’s public meeting of the OLCC board:

“As I explained yesterday at a public Commission meeting, I was informed about the bourbon diversion investigation and its disciplinary conclusions on September 8, 2022.

“Neither I nor any of my fellow commissioners were part of the investigation. In addition, neither I nor any of my fellow commissioners were asked to endorse or otherwise evaluate the investigation.

“I have been a volunteer commission member for six years. The citizen commission’s only role is to set policy, leaving day-to-day operations to agency staff. The policies we enact include the expectation of ethical behavior.

“I am proud of the hard work of my fellow commission members and of the thousands of good and honest employees at OLCC.”

Rosenbaum also provided a list of policy achievements during his six years as OLCC board chair.

Gov. Kotek’s press secretary, Elisabeth Shepard, confirmed in an email that Rosenbaum had resigned at the governor’s request.

At least one of the people implicated in the bourbon diversion scheme, OLCC executive director Steve Marks, resigned earlier this week. He was replaced at Wednesday’s meeting by interim director Craig Prins, erstwhile inspector general for the Oregon Department of Corrections.

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