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Moroney: Alcohol board's tale enough to make you drink

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Showing up at the office was not required. For two hours each day, they could be off to the gym of their choice and still be on the clock. They had guns, beepers, cell phones, three communication lines into their homes, all paid by the state, and night-vision goggles, too.

This healthy array of perks was simply part of the deal for the 14 investigators of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission. So when Democratic state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill took over the agency after a vote by the Democratically-controlled Legislature, it was natural for him to hit the need for reform, again and again.

In doing so, he took swipes at Republican Gov. Mitt Romney for losing control of the agency while under his command.

"I don't think there was much oversight," Cahill said in an interview Friday. But a look behind the scenes at events leading to Cahill's takeover shows a whole different set of priorities at work besides reform.

It shows a world of special interests and influence. It shows the ties that bind political leaders to a politically-wired liquor industry, one apparently desperate to stave off the changes to the ABCC Romney was proposing.

In this con, the reform Cahill promises rings hollow and empty, drowned out by politics as usual and driven by the one factor that matters above all else: money.

In the just-completed budget session, Romney's first, the Democrats turned back his proposed reform of the ABCC. They won the battle, just as they had won the battle to
save Billy Bulger and to stop the reorganization of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.


When Romney took over in January, there were 14 ABCC investigators who worked mostly from home. They weren't cops, but they were charged with enforcing liquor
regulations on the wholesale and retail level.

And they were well-connected. Among them was the son of a state rep, the brother of a state rep, a former chief of staff for a senator, a former employee of the secretary of state, a former ranger at the State House, and a former driver for the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.

In her 16 months at the helm, Mary Jo Griffin, the ABCC commissioner who resigned Friday in anticipation of Cahill firing her, said she tried to instill reform.

The night-vision goggles, for example. Griffin saw them as nothing more than expensive and unnecessary high-tech baubles, she said. So she took them away.

She took away the workout time, too, and scaled down the communication lines into their homes from three to one, she said in an interview.

She also attempted to take away their cell phones, arguing they were redundant because the investigators also had beepers. But the union grieved the decision, she said, on the grounds that Griffin was unduly changing their workplace environment without a hearing. Upon advice from the human resources department, Griffin gave back the cell phones.
But perhaps the most controversial move was taking away their guns.

"They told me they needed the guns because they sometimes had to go into seedy bars," she said. "I said, 'Don't go into those bars, then.'"


As Griffin was working on her end, Romney's people were at work on a much broader effort on two fronts: to reduce the
number of investigators altogether and to move the entire ABCC, the three-member board included, to the Executive Office of Public Safety.

That way, the investigators would become special state troopers, presumably held to higher standards of enforcement and asked to do more training. Griffin, for one, said she was eager for the change. Not so for the liquor industry and one of its key players, Ray Tye.

Tye is founder of United Liquors. Based in Braintree, United is the largest distributor of wine and spirits in the state, according to its Web site. It is second only to Budweiser in the distribution of beer.

According to George Pillsbury of the Money and Politics Project, Tye is perennially in the top 10 of the state's largest non-lobbyist donors. Published reports say he gave $10,000 to Romney's inauguration celebration alone.

That joy of that moment was apparently short-lived. In mid-April, wholesalers, Tye among them, met with ABCC Commissioner Griffin at the headquarters of Martignetti, another large distributor, Griffin said.

There was already talk of Romney cutting the force of ABCC investigators from 14 to 3, and moving the agency to Public Safety.

At the meeting, an account of which appears in the May issue of The Beverage Journal, a state trade publication, wholesalers told Griffin they would be happy to cover the cost of keeping on the entire group of 14 ABCC investigators.

Griffin said she was surprised. "It seemed so absurd, a group paying for the people who would investigate them. I had to
wonder if they were really serious."

They were. At the same meeting, Griffin said, Tye turned to her and said: We don't want the investigators to become police officers. And we are going to work to make sure that doesn't happen. Reached at the Braintree office, an assistant for Tye said he was unavailable for comment.

So why would Tye and his colleagues prefer the ABCC investigators over state troopers?

Records of the past three years may tell the story. They show that liquor retailers in this state have received an average of 300 citations for each of those years, while the wholesalers received none, not even for the tiniest infractions.

Is it the hands-off approach that Tye and others worked so hard -- and apparently successfully -- to preserve?

While Treasurer Cahill said he was unaware of any lobbying Tye might have done to kill the governor's reform of the ABCC, the Romney administration is not.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said, "Among the many reforms we wanted to make to the ABCC was to transfer the agency to the Executive Office of Public Safety so we could properly manage the investigative function. Not surprisingly, the liquor industry was opposed to this idea."


Cahill is standing by his promise to reform, although it is not the same reform Romney had in mind.

The three ABCC investigators who were not cut from the payroll must now come to the office every day, by order of Cahill. But they will not become state troopers.

As for bringing back the 11 cut by Romney, "that's a possibility," Cahill said.

The fact that some are politically connected does not bother him, he said. "It doesn't matter if they do the job."

Of the 11 investigators who were cut, only two could be reached and only one of those two would comment. Mark Kenny of Plymouth said on Friday that he had not been contacted by Cahill's office for possible rehiring.

"If we get back, we get back. If not, I'll find other things to do," said Kenny, who declined to answer any more questions.

And what about the guns? The ABCC investigators could get them back, Cahill said, depending on the recommendation by his transition team.

"They may need them," he said. "We'll have to see."

Bottom line: Some of the changes initiated by Griffin could be reversed. However, Cahill did say he would not reinstate the gym time. "You work out on your own time," he said.

Another change bound to take place has nothing to do with the ABCC and everything to do with Cahill.

When the ABCC was under the governor's control, liquor lobbyists and key industry players would quite naturally write campaign donations to Romney. Now that the treasurer controls the agency, Cahill could conceivably be in for a campaign windfall since those liquor donors will now look to him as the elected official on top. Campaign money flows to those who make the decisions.

"Honestly, it's not something I have ever thought about," Cahill said. Pillsbury, whose group watches the money, agreed that Cahill could get more in donations but "it's not automatic."

The real story, however, is not the money going to the treasurer or the governor, he said. "The Legislature is where you should look. This is where most of the donations go."

Pillsbury has the argument of cause-and-effect on his side. It was, in fact, the Legislature that delivered what the wholesalers said they so ardently desired: to keep the ABCC investigators where they are.

Coincidence? Not a chance.

Subscribing Member
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Yeah MORONey, special state troopers alright. This is the same guy that wasted newspaper space bitching about how the MSP drives too fast on the highways.
His problem is the bulk of oxygenated blood flowing to his head gets diverted to that big pile of hair on top, and not enough to the brain. :stupid:
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