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The LCB scandal: Charge 'em!

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A state Ethics Commission report on three former top Liquor Control Board officials improperly accepting alcohol vendors' gifts bolsters arguments for getting Pennsylvania out of the wine and spirits business — and falls far short of true accountability.

The report found that by failing to disclose golf trips, dinners and high-end bottles accepted from alcohol vendors — clear conflicts of interest — former Marketing Director James H. Short Jr., former Chairman Patrick “P.J.” Stapleton III and former CEO Joe Conti violated Pennsylvania's ethics rules and Liquor Code. The commission ordered them to repay more than $23,000 combined and correct financial disclosure forms. But it didn't recommend criminal charges.

The commission agreed with this trio's lawyers to keep silent on that point — a decision that mocks its responsibility to refer such cases to prosecutors. Accountability demands that decision be investigated.

Accountability also demands that the three face criminal charges, which Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico now must ensure. Facing her own conflict — her husband's firm holds a $12.4 million LCB contract — Attorney General Kathleen Kane turned the case over to him.

But ultimately, Pennsylvania must implement the real solution for such cluster-cluck cases. As the Commonwealth Foundation's Matthew Brouillette says, “The only way to end corruption and conflicts of interest at the PLCB is to get government completely out of the liquor business.”

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