Ex-Liquor Board official was living top-shelf life
HARRISBURG - A man who once played a major role in deciding what showed up on the shelves of Pennsylvania's state-owned system of liquor stores plans to plead guilty to a criminal charge for taking cash and gifts from suppliers, federal prosecutors said yesterday.
A man who once played a major role in deciding what showed up on the shelves of Pennsylvania's state-owned system of liquor stores plans to plead guilty to a criminal charge for taking cash and gifts from suppliers, federal prosecutors said yesterday.
James H. Short Jr., 50, of Harrisburg, has signed an agreement to plead guilty to honest services mail fraud.
Short is the former marketing director of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
Short's defense attorney, Chris Hall, said his client "accepts responsibility and he'll appear before Judge [Sylvia] Rambo at the appropriate time and make that clear."
Federal prosecutors said Short accepted golf trips, gift cards, dozens of meals, sports tickets, alcohol and other gifts over about a decade from an unnamed manufacturer outside Pennsylvania and a distributor from within the state. They said he filed false ethics reports to conceal the freebies.
Short spent three decades at the liquor board, and was making about $114,000 when he retired in March 2014, according to the board.
His dealings with vendors were outlined in a February ruling by the State Ethics Commission that described gifts and hospitality the commission said Short received because of his government position.
The commission said Short took golf trips to Pebble Beach, California, and Bonita Springs, Florida, paid for by vendors. He also received free tickets to the 76ers and to attend a showing of the musical "Wicked" in New York.
He got free food or drinks at some of the state's nicer establishments, including Amis restaurant and the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia and Alfred's Victorian in Middletown, according to the ethics board. One vendor delivered to his home a 12-bottle case of wine, valued at $40-$50 per bottle, the ethics board said. Another gave him a bottle of champagne and a golf flag autographed by Arnold Palmer.
The State Ethics Commission figured Short collected more than $13,000 in gifts, transportation, lodging and hospitality from PLCA vendors.
The liquor board noted in a statement that it has changed its employee conduct code and rules for vendors to avoid having the same thing happen again. All of its workers must review ethical rules annually, and the agency conducts online training.
Short's lawyer and the federal prosecutor's office both declined to say how a guilty plea might affect Short's government pension.
The future of Pennsylvania's system of state-owned liquor stores is currently uncertain, as Republican lawmakers are pushing to privatize it but Gov. Tom Wolf and his fellow Democrats prefer a modernization approach. The liquor privatization dispute, along with potential cuts in public-sector pensions, are playing out as part of the state's budget standoff, now two months old.