For Immediate Release - December 21, 2006

Owner of Kappy's Liquors of Springfield Fined $10,000 for Giving Gift Certificates to Springfield Liquor License Commissioners

Two Former Liquor License Commissioners Also Fined

Giving holiday gifts may be a tradition, but it violates the conflict of interest law if the gifts are given to influence public officials and their actions. The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission issued a Disposition Agreement in which Brian Moore, owner and manager of Kappy's Liquors of Springfield admitted violating the conflict of interest law by giving gift certificates enclosed in holiday cards totaling approximately $200 to each Springfield Liquor License Commissioner (Commissioner) each December from 1999 to 2003. Moore paid a $10,000 civil penalty. In addition, two former Commissioners, Peter Murphy and Gary Van Tassel, were fined $1,000 and $500 respectively for receiving the gift certificates and thus creating an appearance of conflict of interest.

According to the Disposition Agreement, Moore gave the gift certificates with the intention that the Commissioners would "come into his store and see that he ran a clean operation." In late November or early December each year, the Commissioners reviewed and approved Kappy's liquor license renewal. In 2000, despite the return of the gift certificates by one Commissioner with a request not to send such gifts to Commissioners in the future, Moore continued to send gift certificates through 2003.

Section 3 of the conflict of interest law prohibits anyone from offering anything of substantial value to any public employee for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by the public employee or act within his official responsibility. By giving gifts to Commissioners to influence their renewal of his liquor license, Moore provided them with illegal gratuities in violation of § 3.

In two separate Disposition Agreements, Murphy and Van Tassel admitted violating G.L. c. 268A, § 23(b)(3). Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict law prohibits a public official from knowingly or with reason to know acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that anyone can improperly influence or unduly enjoy the public employee's favor in the performance of his official duties.

Murphy received gift certificates in 2002 and 2003 and gave them to a charity and to a family member who gave them to a friend and a babysitter. Van Tassel received gift certificates in 2003 and gave them to his wife who gave them to a colleague. The Commissioners could have avoided violating §23(b)(3) by returning the certificates or by making an advance written disclosure of their receipt of the gift certificates prior to voting to renew Kappy's license. They did not make such disclosures.

"Gifts made to influence a public official's actions are not acts of generosity but of self-interest," said Executive Director Peter Sturges. "Like the Grinch from the famous children's story, such gifts rob the public of their faith in government and their hope that decisions will be based on the merits of an issue rather than the illegal gratuity."