Monday, March 8, 2010

More details (thanks to Don Russell and Bob Warner)

The Daily News has more details on last week's raids here (be sure to read the comments; public anger is high on this one). Highlights:
  • four kegs and 317 bottles were seized, which will be kept at "a secured location, as evidence, until the case is resolved, probably in six to eight months." If the beers are found to be unregistered, they will be destroyed (if they're found to be registered, well, they might as well be, after 6-8 months in unrefrigerated storage).
  • Leigh Maida estimated the value of the beers at $7,200, and said over half of them were properly registered; beers like Duvel and Monk's Cafe Sour, both of which are sold all over the state (but the name on the list doesn't match the label exactly...which would seem to be the fault of the State).
  • "State Police Sgt. William N. La Torre, commanding officer of the Philadelphia office of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, said that he was not aware of any beers that had been mistakenly confiscated." 
  • Francesca Chapman, a PLCB spokeswoman, said that the registration requirement helps the state assure payment of state beer taxes and helps prosecutors identify alcoholic beverages in drunk-driving cases or any other type of prosecution. (Because just taxing every beer that comes in isn't enough? Because looking at the label won't do it? If you're not putting the right name of the beer on the "list" to begin with, how much help is it?)
  • La Torre said that the investigation was sparked by "a citizen complaint. It doesn't matter where the complaint is coming from," he said. (I would say that if the "citizen complaint" came from the owner or employee of another beer-related does matter.)
Nice work. Now...let's dig further into this. Sgt. La Torre is hardly in any position to decide whether where the complaint is coming from "matters." No offense to the officer, but he's a tool being used by the complaining party, and his willingness to protect that person does him no honor. One of the basic principles of American justice is the right to face your accuser. Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida, the owners of the three businesses, their partners, and their employees deserve to know who chose to lodge this complaint specifically against them, while these supposedly unregistered beers are sold at bars across the city, the region, and the state. Why not get lists from the wholesalers who delivered these beers and raid every single bar and distributor who received them? Is the BLCE a tool or is it an enforcement agency?

The reasons given for brand registration do not hold up. TAX EVERY BEER, and it doesn't matter what beers are brought in. Every retailer, bar or distributor, is required to keep paperwork on where they buy beers -- wholesaler or direct from a self-distributing PA brewery -- so that's your assurance of payment of state beer taxes. Why do you need to identify the alcohol beverage in a DUI, and why isn't the label identification enough? This is the Internet age: Google the damned thing if you need to know (and you won't be able to identify a draft beer anyway, so what's the point?).
Which brings up another question. Is brand registration actually about ensuring that wholesalers are getting every sale they should be from retail accounts, and retailers are not buying from the "wrong" wholesaler? If it is, why is the state in that business? That should be a problem for the wholesaler to bring in civil court; why are we spending tax dollars to proactively enforce that?

Again, this is an issue for the Legislature. Rewrite the Code. Abolish the PLCB.


    Brad said...

    What I'd really like to know is, what happens when (hopefully, eventually) the state finally figures out that "oops, we f'ed up, we snagged beer you're allowed to have"?

    Suppose it's kept in some warehouse and it's still cold in PA and they figure this out within a reasonable amount of time and the beer is still in good shape. Does the state police deliver the beer back to the bar? Do they say "if you want your crap back, come and get it"?

    If the beer is no good anymore, can the bar owners get reimbursed by the state for seizing legal goods that they had no right to seize? Will there be additional remedies available to the bar owners? Does this count, partly at least, as an illegal raid where property was actually stolen from these businesses?

    Or will the official position simply be, "tough crap, we can take your beer and we don't have to answer to anyone"?

    It's one thing if the government wants to take actions that it believe serve some legitimate public concern or maintain desirable conditions within the state or its business atmosphere. It would be another thing entirely for the state to make egregious errors in attempting to do this, and then have zero accountability whatsoever for those mistakes.

    Capt Murdock said...

    This makes no sense to me. Any logical thinking human being can look at this situation and see that there is such a great disconnect between PA and the rest of the country.

    After reading a few different accounts it seems as if Pliny was the catalyst for all of the commotion. Were any of the other Pliny events affected? Are the future Pliny events now cancelled?

    This whole thing is crazy.

    Rich said...

    Brad, I'm sure there will be ZERO accountability. There will be a "we messed up" and "come and git yer beer" and a "waa, waa, too bad fer you". Remember it is a "priviledge" to sell beer in Pennsylvania.

    Pete LaVerghetta said...

    I'm gonna go way out on a limb and say this has nothing to do with Pliny. We'll see in the fullness of time.

    Lew Bryson said...

    I think you're absolutely right, Pete. Geeks are seeing Pliny because they're blinded by Pliny, but I don't think it had anything to do with it. This is personal.

    Lisa said...

    This has nothing to do with Pliny - someone has had it in for the team for quite some time (no idea why, since they have brought great businesses to neighborhoods that really benefit from them) - this dates back a few months, at the very least, and it seems like it's one person's vendetta that set things into motion:

    Anonymous said...

    Here is the list of beers registered for sale according to the PLCB website. The cost for registering each one of these is $75 EVERY year. That's alot of money for doing nothing I'm sure the State doesn't want to lose.

    Anonymous said...

    The more I read about this issue, the less enthralled I become at operating an alcohol related business in PA.

    More lost revenue for PA, good going PLCB & State Police.

    sam k said...

    Lew, you're approaching critical mass here...keep it rolling!!

    Stupid is as stupid does.