Former liquor board exec to plead guilty in kickback scheme

Charles Mostoller

The former director of marketing for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will plead guilty to accepting kickbacks from companies seeking to get their wine and spirits in state liquor stores, according to court documents.

James Short, 50, accepted all-expense paid trips, meals and tickets to sporting events from two companies, which are not named in court documents but are referred to as some of the liquor control board’s biggest vendors.

“He accepts responsibility,” said Short’s lawyer, Christopher Hall.

The agency, which holds the monopoly on liquor and wine sales in Pennsylvania, is one of the largest purchasers of alcohol in the world, federal prosecutors say.

Related: Pa. House votes to privatize liquor sales

The guilty plea marks a new turn into a long-running ethics investigation of liquor control board executives.

A trio of Pennsylvania Ethics Commission reports issued in 2014 disclosed a culture of fairly cozy relationships between executives at the commission and vendors.

Those ethics reports show that executives at the agency, including Short, accepted trips and meals from numerous vendors.

Short is charged with accepting pricey gifts from two vendors, but the ethics reports show that a few others also paid for trips.

Earlier this year, former board CEO Joe Conti, board chairman P.J. Stapleton III and Short agreed to pay restitution in return for accepting trips and meals — and neglecting to list those expenses on state financial disclosure forms.

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Under the agreement, Conti agreed to pay $2,400, Stapleton $7,200 and Short $13,500.

Short was charged via information—rather than an indictment—and he has agreed to plead guilty,a legal strategy available to prosecutors that typically indicates that a defendant is cooperating with an ongoing investigation.

While documents filed in federal court do not list what Short accepted from the vendors, reports from the ethics commission say that Short acceptedgift cards from vendorsfrom Nordstrom, Nieman-Marcus and Ferragamo. One vendor bought him and iPad.

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