HANOVER COUNTY, Va - Virginia bourbon and whiskey chasers were not terribly surprised when a former Virginia ABC employee and another man were charged with allegedly selling internal information on rare spirits to bourbon enthusiasts.
One Richmond bourbon lover said it was somewhat of an open secret in online forums.
“The guy was actually in a couple of the groups or what not. He would kind of talk about it, brag about it,” Brian Houchen, who began “bourbon hunting” a few years back, said.
Last month, a multi-jurisdictional grand jury indicted Edgar Smith Garcia, a former Virginia ABC sales manager, and Robert Williams Adams, who did not work for ABC, with felony embezzlement and computer trespassing. The alleged scheme involved accessing and selling the ABC Management of Inventory Products (MIPS) list to bourbon chasers, court documents show.
Prosecutors told the Richmond Time-Dispatch Garcia would provide Adams with the list, who would, in turn, provide the information to online subscribers for $300. The Virginia Mercury also reported on the alleged scheme.
This Spring, Virginia ABC implemented a “randomized” approach to distributing limited-availability spirits in order to cut down on enthusiasts following supply trucks or camping outside of stores.
ABC officials said they also wanted to help more Virginians have access to rare products, which sell out quickly when chasers get word of stock.
“A lot of people were complaining to the ABC, and I’m sure they got tired of hearing about it and decided to put an end to it,” Houchens said.
While some people flip the rare bottles to make a profit on secondary markets, Houchens said many of the people he knows in the Virginia bourbon-chasing community do it for the spirit of camaraderie.
“Some people call it crazy. I even sat out for my first bottle of this for 15 hours,” he said referring to a bottle of George T. Stage. “For me, it’s just about meeting new guys. It’s never really about the juice, it’s more so about the conversation.”
Virginia ABC said the best way to track down rare bottles is through their Spirited Virginia social media feeds and email subscription list, which is 130,000 strong already.
“As the sole provider of spirits in Virginia, we want to ensure that every customer has a fair chance at acquiring highly sought-after products,” a Virginia ABC spokesperson said in a statement to CBS 6.
“We are committed to this standard and are confident that our current random process to distribute limited availability products addresses the issues identified in our investigation that led to the arrest of these two individuals. We will continue to ensure the process is fair and equitable to all who wish to have the chance to buy a limited availability product,” it continued.
Attorneys for both defendants and the Commonwealth could not be reached for comment at this time.
CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said the case could present an interesting dilemma for a judge or jury, should it reach that point for either man charged.
“The item alleged to have been stolen is not the bourbon, but rather the information about how to acquire the bourbon. At trial, a judge or jury will need to determine whether the defendants’ alleged conduct to sell that information is sufficient to sustain a criminal conviction,” Stone said. “If so, they will need to further determine the value of that information in order to decide whether it meets the threshold for a felony conviction. Cases that involve unique issues like these can sometimes be more problematic for the prosecution to prove.”
Both Garcia and Adams, who do not live in Central Virginia, were released on bond last month pending future court appearances.
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