2019 PRNDI Award Entry, Continuing Coverage: Bootlegging in N.H. State Liquor Outlets
New Hampshire has long prided itself on its lack of a broad-based sales or income tax. But in this flinty state, liquor is big business.
The state essentially has a monopoly on liquor and wine sales. The nearly 80 government-owned and -operated liquor outlets are one of the major money makers for the state treasury, raising roughly 7 percent of the annual operating budget. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission, the agency overseeing this vast operation, has traditionally received little scrutiny from lawmakers or the public, as long as the profits keep pouring in to state coffers.
But in early 2018, NHPR reporter Todd Bookman got a tip that raised shocking allegations about what goes on at New Hampshire’s liquor outlets. In recent years, “bootleggers” had established a foothold at a handful of state-run stores, purchasing van-loads of Hennessy brand cognac and driving the booze across the border for resale. The schemes relied on all-cash purchases, allegedly fueled by illegal activity and structured in a way to avoid scrutiny from the IRS – all with the knowledge and tacit consent of state liquor officials.
Todd did more than just report a single story from this initial tip and move on. Over the next six months, he dug into this issue aggressively. His reporting resulted in a series of pieces that brought unusual - and uncomfortable - attention to the Liquor Commission. Relying on information gleaned from Right to Know requests, sales data buried in obscure financial reports, and numerous background sources, Todd broke story after story about the scope of bootlegging in state liquor stores.
His reporting helped spur an investigation by the New Hampshire Attorney General and led to a denial of pay raises to the commission’s top executives. While the debate over the scale of bootlegging in New Hampshire is ongoing, Todd’s work continues to set the terms of the conversation. We’re proud to submit it for the PRNDI Award in Continuing Coverage in 2018.
Highlights from our coverage of bootlegging in 2018: