Watchdog found graft involving 3 LCB aides
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HARRISBURG -- A trio of top officials at the state Liquor Control Board accepted gifts and favors from vendors and other businesses with an interest in liquor, the state Inspector General's Office has concluded in a confidential report.
The report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer, was submitted to Gov. Tom Corbett's office in late March. An inspector general's spokesman said the matter was also referred to the state Ethics Commission.
The report names LCB chief executive officer Joe Conti, board member Patrick J. "P.J." Stapleton III and marketing director James Short as having accepted gifts and favors, including wine and tickets to sporting events and golf tournaments.
It says one LCB vendor secured a round of golf with a pro for Mr. Stapleton during a tournament at Aronomink -- and sent two employees to serve as Mr. Stapleton's caddies.
As for Mr. Conti, the report suggests the $156,000-a-year LCB executive lobbied a vendor and pressed others inside and outside the agency -- including restaurateur Stephen Starr -- for jobs for his brother and daughter.
All three declined to be interviewed.
Ethics Commission executive director John Contino said Monday that his agency neither confirms nor denies the existence of any investigation.
The reports have surfaced as the Legislature ponders whether to privatize the LCB. Debate on a House bill to privatize the system had been scheduled to resume Monday but was postponed.
At its start, Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner's report noted that the state Ethics Act bars officials from using their positions to benefit themselves or their families -- and that state liquor law makes it a felony for LCB employees and their relatives to receive gifts from vendors. Penalties include firing and possible prosecution.
Mr. Faulkner wrote that her agency's watchdog role was limited because the liquor board is an independent agency and its officials could not be compelled to cooperate. As a result, she wrote, investigators did not interview LCB employees or vendors.
But they did review emails sent on state computers and concluded that the Ethics Act had been breached.
The report concluded that Mr. Stapleton, the one-time LCB chairman, accepted several gifts from an LCB vendor, North Wales-based Capital Wine & Spirits.
The gifts included about $1,700 worth of alcohol for an event at the Hotel Hershey last year that Mr. Stapleton and his ex-wife organized.
Mr. Stapleton solicited the alcohol and the LCB vendor, Capital Wine & Spirits, donated 60 bottles, the report said.
The report said another LCB vendor, Majestic Wine & Spirits, lined up a celebrity chef for the same event.
The report said Capital Wine also arranged golf outings for Mr. Stapleton..
He has been on the LCB since 1997 and was chairman from 2007 until last fall. His term officially expired in May, but he is staying on the three-person panel until Mr. Corbett names a replacement.
Mr. Conti, according to the report, was a frequent attendee at Philadelphia-area sporting events last summer.
He and his wife, Molli, were described as guests of the Philadelphia Union during one of its soccer games last June -- at a time when the team was trying to do business with LCB.
Mr. Conti, a former Republican state senator from Bucks County, was described as often attending Philadelphia Phillies games as a guest of LCB vendors.
For six months beginning last summer, the report said, a top LCB aide devoted part of her time to searching for jobs for Mr. Conti's brother and daughter.
But earlier this year, the report said, Mr. Conti emailed Mr. Starr recommending the famed restaurateur hire his daughter.
Weeks later, Mr. Conti's daughter was hired as an executive assistant for Starr Restaurants Catering Group.
First Published June 19, 2012 12:00 am