West Virginia ABCA Investigated by Feds

Its being reported in the Charleston Gazette this morning, as well as the Register-Herald, that the feds are investigating West Virginia’s liquor control agency, the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, and subpoenas are flying.

The Register-Herald article was not able to confirm any of the details, but the Gazette article, by Phil Kabler, was actually very specific.  From the article:

Here’s what I’ve been able to gather: Apparently, the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charleston goes right to the top, and is focused on five individuals: Commissioner Dallas Staples, former Charleston police chief; deputy commissioner Keith Wagner, a former state senator from McDowell County; region 2 enforcement director John Duncan; Danny Cantley; and Fred Wooton, who also works full-time as a Beckley firefighter. He’s also the brother of former state senator and current House of Delegates candidate Bill Wooton.

The article followed the above paragraph with this one:

Duncan was one of the ABCA officials reprimanded in 2007 for transporting liquor in an ABCA vehicle to former Lincoln County clerk Greg Stowers’ homecoming party following his release from federal prison.

Goodness gracious.  Add this to the “only in West Virginia” stack of stuff….  

Apparently, the allegations revolve around gifts from alcohol distributors to state ABC officials for favorable positioning and promotion of their brands.  What kinds of gifts?  Everything from bottles of liquor to thoroughbred horses, to dinners, golf outings, etc.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The WV ABCA was given complete control over the granting of liquor licenses, and liquor licenses are a prerequisite the the award of a video lottery license.  Was there any doubt that this would lead to a corrupt state agency?  

There was a comment posted on the Gazette article by “Joe6pk” that was particularly insightful:

Long ago, the State decided it wanted a monopoly on the sale of alcoholic beverages, and to exercise that monopoly through distributors. It was a set-up for corruption that has continued for 70 years or more. The only way to end this corruption is to get the State out of the alcoholic beverage business. Thirty-two other states have done so, with no ill effect. Alcoholic beverages should be treated as any other consumer product. A monopoly limits selection, increases prices and reduces tax revenue. It may have been a good idea in 1933, but times have changed and it has become a stupid idea that benefits only the distributors and corrupt officials. Blah!

Criminal defense attorneys have known for a while that ABC has been using their power over liquor licenses and lottery licenses to investigate licensees charged with crimes unrelated to the licenses.  Say a liquor licensee is charged with an unrelated crime.  They will suspend his license, and then demand that he give a full and complete written explanation of what happened.  Then they will hand the statement over to prosecutors.  Why were they doing this?  Who knows.  Maybe they just got power hungry.

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

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