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Oregon liquor director to resign amid scandal over rare bourbon

Kristian Foden-Vencil

Steve Marks, director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, will step down after revelations he and other top managers at the agency saved bottles of rare bourbon to purchase for themselves and friends.

The director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission will step down this week, after revelations he and other top managers at the agency saved bottles of rare bourbon to purchase for themselves and friends.

Steve Marks submitted a letter of resignation Monday morning to the commissioners who oversee the agency. His resignation becomes effective 5 p.m. Wednesday, the same day the OLCC is scheduled to hold a meeting that might result in the appointment of an interim director.

“Gov. [Tina] Kotek has requested that I resign from my position as Executive Director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission,” Marks wrote in the letter, as was first reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive. “Because I believe that the Governor is entitled to have her own management team, I will honor that request.”

As director of the OLCC, Marks is answerable to the agency’s seven-member board of commissioners, which in turn answers to Kotek.

Marks came under fire last week, when an internal OLCC investigation came to light that revealed his agency’s top managers had made a habit of reserving bottles of hard-to-get whiskeys for their own purchase. For a chance to purchase those same bourbons, members of the public must compete against thousands of other Oregonians in a state-run lottery.

The appearance that Marks and five of his top deputies had used their positions unethically had quietly led to a reprimand within the agency earlier this year, public records show. Kotek’s office said the governor had already called for Marks to step down as part of a broader reorganization of state agency leadership under her administration before she learned about the bourbon purchases.

Once she became aware of the investigation, Kotek called for more wholesale change at the OLCC, requesting that all top-level managers who acknowledged obtaining liquor via preferential means lose their jobs.

“This behavior is wholly unacceptable,” Kotek wrote in a letter. “I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws.”

Kotek also called on Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to launch an investigation into what civil infractions might have occurred within the OLCC. Rosenblum has since said she’ll go farther: The Oregon Department of Justice is now looking into the matter for possible criminal charges.

This is a developing story. It may be updated.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.