On January 13, the Union Leader published an excellent story by Kevin Landrigan called Bootleg Booze: A NH to NY Pipeline. We learn that people from other states are coming to NH to make large purchases of cheap liquor. This isn't buying 10 cases of wine for a wedding. These are bulk purchases amounting to thousands of dollars....but only purchases up to $9,995 dollars. A cash purchase of over $10,000 requires filling out an IRS form. These modern day bootleggers don't want any records that might call into question where all that cash came from in the first place, so they split the cash payment between several purchasers, or pay half in cash and half on a credit card. The act of splitting up a transaction to avoid the federal requirements is known as "structuring." NH Liquor Commissioner Joseph Mollica almost seems to be bragging about how cleverly NH skirts the law by looking the other way.
Fast forward a month. NHPR gives us the latest on this same story. Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky calls for an investigation into the Liquor Commission after spending some time at a store where the bootlegging activity is taking place. He sent the governor a letter detailing his concerns. Particularly troubling is the finding that employees make large cash deposits, putting them at great risk.
One might think that a warning of potentially illegal and dangerous activities would be met with gratitude - especially before anything hit the proverbial fan - but one would be wrong. Instead of the thanks of a grateful state government, Councilor Volinsky was greeted with hostility and accusations.
The very same paper that published Kevin Landrigan's story, printed this editorial, mocking Councilor Volinsky for reporting the same findings their own paper had printed weeks before. The very same paper printed this story featuring Jeanne Forrester, chair of the NH Republican Party, calling for an investigation into Councilor Volinsky, a month after publishing Kevin Landrigan's story. She called Volinsky's allegations "bizarre." It's amazing how a story can go from zero to "bizarre" in a month. It's almost as if there were some kind of partisan ideology afoot here. Oh, say it ain't so!
There was this from the NH Republican Party Chair:
Drop the disguise? He was dressed in jeans, a sweater, and a baseball cap on a weekend - in front of security cameras. He wasn't wearing a disguise like this guy:
It seems likely there were hundreds of visitors to that same store over that weekend who wearing a "disguise" just like Councilor Volinksky's.
Oh, and speaking of "investigations conducted above board," there was one conducted by the Republican Speaker of the NH House in 2012:
It is dazzling that reporting on potentially illegal, seemingly corrupt, and dangerous practices can be blamed on the messenger. It wasn't problematic when it was O'Brien's committee...but suddenly, the very same story is causing the majority party to clutch their pearls in horror.
For more on the story from Councilor Volinsky, listen to him on this podcast of The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen. Full disclosure: I was the producer of the show, so I was sitting right there as Andru talked about how thousands of dollars were counted right there on the counter in front of the windows.
There are a lot of questions that need answering. Our state liquor store employees need to be protected. Our liquor commissioner has some explaining to do - and so do Jeanne Forrester and Chris Sununu. Their knee jerk reaction to Councilor Volinsky's findings is reprehensible.
The Valley News calls for an investigation in this editorial. Not so the Union Leader. They suggest in this peculiar editorial that by not ignoring potentially illegal and corrupt activities, Andru is trying to give NH an INCOME TAX. That's right. They want him (and all of us) to turn a blind eye so that NH can keep on raking in the big booze bucks.
There must be an investigation - an independent investigation. The money trail is going to be fascinating.