Inquiry into liquor official not pursued

Last modified: 8/9/2012 12:00:00 AM

Before he resigned as a liquor commissioner in June, Mark Bodi urged a friend to submit his resume for a $30,000 contract with the commission, according to the attorney general's office. The man was awarded the job without being vetted or competing with other vendors, the office said.

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice concluded that Bodi may have had a conflict of interest or created the appearance of a conflict of interest in urging Clark Corson, a lobbyist for the beer industry, to submit his resume for a study the commission wanted.

But in a report to the Executive Council yesterday, Rice said the office will not investigate whether Bodi's actions violated the state's ethics laws because he has left state government.

Reached last night, Bodi, of Portsmouth, called Rice's report factually incorrect and said he was never interviewed.

''It is incredulous to me how the attorney general's office could come to a conclusion with respect to this study . . . without speaking to me directly or with others who had knowledge of and were eager to communicate the substantive facts,'' he said. Bodi said he welcomes a review of his ethics.

''My departure from state government should not serve as an obstacle to reviewing this or another matter fully and completely,'' he said. Bodi also said this investigation, which he knew about before he resigned, had nothing to do with his departure in June. He said he left to resume work in the private sector.

Prior investigation

Bodi had a rocky tenure as commissioner and fought an effort by Gov. John Lynch to remove him in 2010.

In that case, the attorney general's office petitioned to remove Bodi from office for stepping into an investigation of a Keene tavern. Bodi refused Lynch's request to resign, and fought the petition effort before the Executive Council.

The council reprimanded Bodi but allowed him to keep his job.

Bodi returned to work but resigned in June, a year before his commission was up, to take a job outside state government.

He issued a statement at the time: ''New business opportunities in the marketing and national wine and spirits industry, as well as my association activities present an irresistible opportunity for me to transition back to private life at this time.''

After Rice's report was made public yesterday, Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica and Commissioner Michael Milligan vowed to tighten control of the commission's advertising and marketing contract. The governor's office echoed that assurance yesterday.

In a written statement, the two liquor commissioners said the Liquor Commission will no longer leave supervision of those contracts to an outside agency, as it had in the Corson case, and will instead oversee the contracts directly.

Proper oversight

They also said they've met with the attorney general's office for advice on improving the commission's business practices and will review all contracts for possible conflicts of interest.

''The commission pledges to continue its commitment to maintaining proper oversight in all areas of our business that serve the people in an open, honest and productive manner,'' the statement said.

The attorney general's office was tipped off about the contract in May by Eddie Edwards, director of enforcement for the Liquor Commission. His concern, however, was that the Liquor Commission had hired Corson to lobby for it, in violation of state law.

Edwards could not be reached last night, but Rice's report does not indicate he expressed concern about how Corson's contract was awarded. When Rice looked into Edwards's lobbying complaint, she concluded Corson was not lobbying for the commission.

Instead, Rice said, Corson had been hired to study the possibility of selling beer at the state's liquor stores, an expansion Bodi had favored since at least 2009. It was the awarding of that contract that Rice concluded raised questions.

According to Rice's report, Mollica and the Liquor Commission's chief financial officer drafted a scope of the study the commission needed and all three commissioners, Bodi included, reviewed it. That information was sent to Rumbletree, one of the commission's advertising agencies, in the late fall of 2011 with a request it find potential contractors, Rice's report said.

A Rumbletree employee suggested one agency, but its fees were higher than the commission had budgeted. About the same time, Bodi told Corson the commission wanted to do the feasibility study and asked Corson if he would be interested, Rice's report said.

''Bodi, who is a personal friend of Corson's, encouraged him to submit his resume if he was interested, and followed up with Corson on a couple of occasions to make sure he acted quickly,'' Rice wrote.

$30,000 payment

Corson spoke with Rice for her report and told Rice that he delivered his resume to the Liquor Commission. An employee there forwarded Corson's resume to Rumbletree ''with a note to the effect of 'if you can't find anyone else, here's someone who can do the study,' '' Rice wrote in her report.

A Rumbletree employee then sent Corson the contract and asked him to sign it if he found the $30,000 payment acceptable, Rice reported. Rumbletree did not solicit any other bidders for the job, she said.

The other two commissioners, Mollica and Milligan, told Rice they knew Corson had been selected. But they thought Rumbletree had done a selection process. Rumbletree hadn't, Rice said.

''There was no (request for proposals), no vetting of (Corson's) qualifications or any process to determine whether he was qualified and/or whether his lobbying position created an actual or an appearance of a conflict of interest,'' Rice wrote in her report.

Given that and given Bodi's personal relationship with Corson, Rice concluded, ''That fact raises questions about whether Bodi may have had a conflict of interest or created an appearance of a conflict of interest in encouraging Corson to apply for the contract.''

Rice said Bodi had told Edwards, of liquor enforcement, that he did not want to have any involvement in hiring Corson. Rice found otherwise. ''Corson makes clear that is not the case,'' she wrote.

'Beer industry lobbyist'

In a statement, Lynch's spokesman Colin Manning said even though the underlying allegations about lobbying were unfounded, Rice's report raised questions about the commission's contracting oversight.

''It should have been recognized that the hiring of a beer industry lobbyist to write what was intended to be an independent report on selling beer in state liquor stores would call into question the objectivity of that report,'' Manning wrote.

Last night, Bodi said he ''never discussed or encouraged Corson to solicit a beer marketing study with the commission.'' He said he never approved Corson conducting a study and never participated in a discussion of ''the scope of the study.''

In fact, Bodi said, he considered the matter resolved with the 2009 study of beer sales in liquor stores. ''It had been exhaustively considered in the past,'' he said.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)'

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