By Graham Moomaw
In the search for hard-to-find bottles of bourbon in Virginia ABC stores, some liquor enthusiasts worried about more serious leaks.
Employees of the government-run liquor monopoly would have access to invaluable insider information about which products went where, and the system could result in some shoppers getting early warning of stores selling rare bottles of Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace or otherwise. brands, many bourbon collectors have complained.
In April, as ABC announced a new random “drop” system, in which only a few stores are selected to provide their supply of limited-availability bottles, a commenter on the agency’s public Facebook page suggested that someone one had tried to sell information. to bourbon buyers where the best bottles would be.
“Someone told me they had a backdoor in the VABC computer system… when they got the Stagg version they knew how many bottles were going to be in which stores,” another commenter wrote, adding an emoji shrugging the shoulders.
“Kindly true but not entirely,” another commenter replied. “Insider Information.”
The conspiracy theories were apparently not wrong.
An ABC investigation has led to four felony charges against two men who were arrested last month and charged with computer intrusion and misappropriation of ABC’s inventory list.
One of the men charged, Edgar Smith Garcia, 28, of Manassas, was an ABC employee who allegedly passed inside information to the agency. His accused co-conspirator, Robert William Adams, 45, of Chesapeake, allegedly sold the information to buyers he contacted through online bourbon hunting groups, according to David Stock, an assistant Henrico County prosecutor charged with of the case. Stock also serves as special counsel to the grand jury.
Court records show Adams and Garcia were both released on bail after their arrests. Lawyers for the two men did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
“In April, after a review of how these products are sold, we adjusted our distribution methods to provide all customers with the best opportunity to purchase products in limited quantities,” the spokeswoman said. ABC, Dawn Eischen, in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Based on the complaints and our own observations prior to the changes, we and other law enforcement entities conducted an investigation which resulted in charges against Robert Adams.”
Eischen initially declined to say whether Adams worked for the agency, citing an “ongoing criminal investigation.” The agency’s original written statement, made in response to the Mercury’s investigation of Adams, made no mention of Garcia.
ABC officials only acknowledged on Wednesday that an ex-employee also faces charges, after Stock told the Mercury the case involved two defendants, not one. Garcia was employed as a senior sales associate, officials said, from February 2020 until March 25 of this year.
“We have identified one instance where an employee violated ABC policy in the use of inventory information,” said agency CEO Travis Hill. “And we are now working with the Commonwealth Solicitor to criminally charge this individual.”
Private liquor stores in other states have more flexibility in how to handle a supply-demand mismatch. They can increase the prices of highly sought-after bottles or reserve them for the best customers. In Virginia, where all liquor stores are operated by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, it’s a more complicated task.
For rarer bottles like Pappy Van Winkle, ABC runs occasional lotteries, where buyers are selected via raffles. Until recently, other in-demand bottles were put on the shelves as soon as stores received them, a system that spawned online groups dedicated to tracking which stores received which bottles. Some of this could apparently be done with publicly available information on ABC’s website, and third-party websites have popped up in an effort to make this information more accessible to bottle hunters. But in the quest for the best bourbon information, inside knowledge could make the difference.
The random deposit system announced by ABC in April was touted in part as a way to increase fairness and “limit opportunities for individuals or groups to queue outside stores for long periods of time or seek information that gives them an unfair advantage”.
The bourbon-collecting craze, which enthusiasts say took off during the pandemic, has also created a robust online parallel market, where bottles that cost $50 to $100 at an ABC store can fetch hundreds for the “fins” who have no interest in drinking them.
A Facebook account that went by the name ‘Rob JD’ or ‘Rob Adams’ wasn’t particularly secretive about offering inside information about ABC for a fee, according to numerous screenshots of shared online exchanges. with the Mercury, and sometimes bragged that ABC would. I don’t understand what was going on. Stock confirmed that the account was involved in the criminal case, and ABC officials said the investigation began due to complaints received by the agency.
On ABC’s Spirited Virginia Facebook page, several commenters praised the new random bourbon system, saying it seems to give everyone a fairer chance. Others are skeptical that the leaks have been fully sealed, and some have complained about a new set of problems resulting from the mad dashes to stores making bottle drops.
“I’d rather see the long queues in the morning than what I saw in a store here in Richmond,” one commenter wrote. “Literally 7-8 cars speeding, swerving around the parking lot running into the store. Someone is going to get hurt here.