The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has settled a dispute with a former employee who it accused of violating store policy and subsequently fired.
Backers of the former employee, however, describe him as a whistleblower who was retaliated against for shedding light on alleged ‘bootlegging’ at state-run liquor stores.
The settlement agreement, obtained by NHPR through a Right to Know request, shows that the state paid Garrett Boes, a former retail clerk at a Keene liquor store, $34,000 in exchange for his agreement to withdraw a claim of wrongful termination, an amount nearly equal to a full year’s salary.
The dispute stems from a transaction made in February 2018, when Boes rang up a series of cash sales for more than $24,000 worth of Hennessy cognac for a customer. The sales, which the purchaser divided into several smaller amounts at the register, violated both federal financial rules and the Liquor Commission’s own policies concerning large volume sales.
At the time of the sale, Boes was covertly working with Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky to show him how so-called bootleggers frequent New Hampshire liquor stores and attempt to skirt federal cash reporting rules by breaking up large transactions into smaller sales that fall below the IRS’s $10,000 reporting threshold.
Volisnky, who witnessed the 2018 transaction in what the Liquor Commission labeled a “sting operation,” used the episode to call for an investigation into the agency’s handling of large all-cash transactions.
Boes was fired by the Liquor Commission for violating agency policy shortly after Volisnky released a memo on the subject, urging the New Hampshire Department of Justice to investigate. Under the terms of the settlement agreement dated August 30, Boes agrees to withdraw a wrongful termination appeal with the state’s Personnel Appeals Board. He also forfeits the opportunity to apply for a new position with the Liquor Commission, as well as seek back pay.
“Garrett Bose was a whistleblower who helped me understand the corrupt practices of our State Liquor Commission and was retaliated against as a result,” said Volinsky in a statement. “I am glad that he stood up to the bullies and now has been made whole.”
The Liquor Commission says it struck the deal, in part, to avoid forcing other employees who also witnessed the 2018 transactions to participate in the case.
“Rather than reopen this dispute more than one year later via a proceeding that is appealable by either side, the parties came to an agreement that fully concludes this case,” said a spokesperson for the Liquor Commission.
Last November, the state Department of Justice released a brief report clearing the Liquor Commission of violating any state or federal laws and that it found “no credible evidence” that employees were encouraged to disregard policies when they completed cash sales.
The IRS, however, has long raised concerns about how the Liquor Commission handles large cash transactions at its nearly 80 liquor stores. That includes its own investigation last spring into a series of transactions made by a New York man who would later plead guilty to illegally transporting more than 750 liters of liquor--mostly Hennessy cognac--purchased at liquor stores in New Hampshire.
[This post was updated from its original version.]