3 linked to PLCB accepted gifts from vendors

Ethics panel: Men must reimburse the state, amend disclosures

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HARRISBURG -- Three former top officials from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board violated state ethics laws, according to orders released Monday from the State Ethics Commission that said the men improperly accepted gifts from vendors doing business with the PLCB.

All three must reimburse the state for the value of the gifts and hospitality, as well as file amended disclosure forms for past years, according to the State Ethics Commission.

Joe Conti, former CEO of the PLCB, was ordered to pay $2,338.51.

He accepted "gifts and hospitality (meals, golf outings, beverages) provided by various vendors who had ongoing contractual relationships with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board at a time with Mr. Conti was the Chief Executive Officer of the PLCB," according to the Ethics Commission's findings.

Mr. Conti was CEO from December 2006 until February, 2013; he previously was a state representative and a state senator.

The state's Liquor Control Board is responsible for regulating the sale of alcohol in Pennsylvania and runs a retail network of approximately 600 stores in the commonwealth. The PLCB is governed by a three-member board, appointed by the governor and confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate. The board appoints a CEO.

Former PLCB board member Patrick Stapleton also was ordered to pay $7,258.54 for accepting meals and golf outings from PLCB vendors, according to the ethics reports. Mr. Stapleton was a member of the PLCB from 1997 until 2012.

Former PLCB director of marketing James Short was ordered to pay $13,586.92; Mr. Short had been in the position to recommend listing or de-listing of products sold in all state wines and spirits retail stores.

Payments from the three men will go toward the commonwealth's general fund.

Executive director Rob Caruso said the ethics commission's findings show a "culture" of meals, cocktails and outings for officials at the agency.

"If they're not evaluating their processes and their code of conduct, they probably should," Mr. Caruso said of the PLCB.

The ethics commission is a civil agency and can't bring criminal charges, but Mr. Caruso said all its findings are reviewed by the attorney general's office.

Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, which voted to abolish the state liquor system last year in favor of privatization, said the ethics findings show the inherent conflicts of having a state-run system.

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. First Published March 17, 2014 12:20 PM

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