Three Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board officials are named in a state Ethics Commission probe investigating the acceptance of gifts and favors from vendors and other businesses with an interest in liquor regulation.
Joe Conti, chief executive officer, Patrick J. “P.J.” Stapleton III, board member, and James Short, marketing director, are mentioned in an original report prepared by the state Office of the Inspector General in March, and acquired by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Specific activity allegedly linked to the three LCB officials as reported by The Inquirer include Stapleton receiving a round of golf with a golf pro at Aronimink Golf Club secured by an LCB vendor; alcohol expenses paid by the Hershey Hotel at an event hosted by Stapleton; and Conti promising influence if a vendor/business hired family members.
Stacy Kriedeman, LCB deputy director of external affairs, noted only that the agency is cooperating with the pending investigation
Tim Potts, co-founder of the government watchdog group Democracy Rising PA, is glad to see the investigation move forward.
“The fact that the state Ethics Commission is pursuing it is good news,” he said. “Too often I think they have been slow to initiate investigations and slow to conclude investigations. But I suspect this time something that is this high profile will see a good end product from it.”
Potts said banning gifts for all elected and nominated officials is the answer, citing that “86 percent of Pennsylvania voters want to prohibit any public official from getting gifts and gratuities.
“We have lobbying-control laws that allow enormous amounts of gifts to change hands between lobbyists and legislators and it’s not for the benefit of the public,” he said.
“The public knows what it wants and it wants a gift ban – an outright gift ban,” Potts said.
John Contino, Ethics Commission executive director, could not be reached for comment.
Melissa Yerges, spokeswoman for the State Office of Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner, had no comment on the agency’s March report or the recent LCB probe.
The state Ethics Act contains language specific to restricted activities of nominated and elected officials, in seeking or accepting “improper influence.” Specifically, the act prohibits offering, giving, soliciting or accepting “anything of monetary value including a gift, loan, political contribution, reward or promise of future employment.”