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2019 PRNDI Award Entry, Continuing Coverage: Bootlegging in N.H. State Liquor Outlets

photo of liquor store
Joe Shlabotnik
Flickr/Creative Commons

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:

2/15/18: Councilor Says N.H. Liquor Commission Aiding Cross-Border 'Money Laundering' Scheme

2/16/18: Sununu Questions 'Sting Operation' Into Alleged Money Laundering at Liquor Stores

2/22/18: Allegations About Cash Sales At N.H. State Liquor Stores Echo Earlier Investigation

3/13/18: Liquor Commission Fires Employee Who Completed $24K Hennessy Transaction

3/14/18: Hennessy Cognac, Liquor at Center of 'Bootlegging' Allegations, Was N.H.'s Top Seller Last Year

4/2/18: Amid Calls for Investigation, IRS Agents Said to Have Visited N.H. Liquor Stores

4/3/18: New Details Emerge On IRS Investigations Involving State Liquor Sales

4/13/18: AG Says It's Investigating N.H. State Liquor Commission's Handling of Large Cash Sales

4/19/18: In Lengthy Memo to AG, N.H. Liquor Commission Rejects ‘Bootlegging’ Allegations

5/3/18: N.H. Officials Unaware of Stakeouts and Bootlegging Stings at State-Run Liquor Stores

6/7/18: Tensions Flare Up Between Union and Liquor Commission, And Not For The First Time

6/7/18: Sununu Confident in N.H. Liquor Chair, Concerned by Liquor Commission, SEA Feud

6/13/18: Competition, Rising Expenses Are Watering Down N.H. Liquor Profits

7/13/18: Liquor Commission Seeks to Ban Union President From Entering State Liquor Stores

8/8/18: Amid Bootlegging Investigation, N.H. Liquor Stores Launch Promotion Aimed At Out-Of-State Buyers

8/15/18: How One Small Policy Tweak Helped Open Hennessy Floodgates in N.H.

9/20/18: With So Much Cash Flowing Through N.H. Liquor Stores, State Looks To Hire Armored Cars

11/6/18: Expecting Surge in Cash, N.H. Liquor Commission Hires Armored Car Service

11/30/18: AG Clears N.H. Liquor Commission of Wrongdoing After Months-Long Investigation

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