Former LCB Staff Talk Internal Operations

OCEAN CITY — Two former
employees with the Liquor Control Board for Worcester County (LCB) came forward
this week claiming questionable and even “shady” business practices, pointing
out one of the LCB’s recent claims was an outright lie.

As the region waits for
the “official” audited financial reports for the LCB to be released later this
month, more information continues to surface about the inner workings of the
quasi-governmental monopoly in charge of dispensing all the liquor sold in
Worcester County.

It has become apparent
that there seems to be more of a shroud of secrecy than one of transparency as
employees who have come forward are seemingly terrified of retribution for
their comments about their time spent with the LCB. With that said, the two
former employees agreed to talk to The Dispatch on the condition of
anonymity.

Between the two, they
accrued more than four years of working in two of the six LCB retail stores,
and said that during that time they saw a number of questionable things, but
none more so than the monthly inventory reports.

“We would have to do
monthly reports for the inventory in the stores, but they would change the
numbers so they would come in at zero, which means the store would have a
perfect inventory,” said Ex-Employee A. “They changed them so much, I didn’t
even know why they were doing the inventory in the first place if they were
just going to fudge the numbers.”

Ex-Employee B claims
that managers at the stores were given access to a password in the store’s
computer system that could essentially add or delete product from the list as
was needed. Both former employees say that during their time on the county
payroll they saw the alleged tweaking of inventory numbers “more than a dozen
times.”

In addition, and perhaps
most incriminating is their claim that refutes the LCB’s recent proclamation
that it hadn’t given bonuses or raises in the last two years as a bogus
statement.

“Last summer people were
getting bonuses at each store for getting the most sales in a month,” said
Ex-Employee A. “There was a quota sheet that was posted in each store, and at
the end of the month, whichever store sold the most, the manager of that store
got a bonus, and I even heard that one manager got a bonus for as much as $500.
So they are lying when they say no one got bonuses last year.”

One former LCB employee
who did agree to put his name into the record was former head of the LCB
(1999-2003) and current Worcester County Commissioner Bobby Cowger. He says
that quotas were an incentive used by the LCB when he ran the county monopoly,
but insisted that he was displeased if it had continued with the practice after
the county had made a move to cut bonuses and pay raises when the economy went
sour almost two years ago.

“They said that they
weren’t [giving bonuses] and if these claims are true, that is concerning to
me,” said Cowger. “In my day, there were incentive bonuses for being top
selling store, but I’ve never heard of anything like $500. It was more like $50
back then.”

As far as the
ex-employees’ claims concerning the LCB’s inventory, Cowger said that it is
“virtually impossible” to get a zero on an inventory sheet, as he noted that
there are many factors that can alter the numbers.

“We rarely got an exact
zero inventory,” said Cowger. “Sometimes you catch people stealing, or there
are broken bottles, but we didn’t have any sort of pass code or override system
back then, and I don’t even know why they would do something like that.”

Despite his questions on
how the LCB documents their inventory, Cowger believes that the LCB’s biggest
flaw or perhaps wrongdoing in this entire controversy has everything to do with
the inventory itself.

“My first thought when I
saw how much money they were losing was to have a look at their inventory and
see just how much they are sitting on down there,” said Cowger. “When you are
losing $600,000-$700,000 in a span of only a few years, it has to be the
inventory. They must be buying up a ton of liquor direct, and then having to
sit on it and pay interest because they can’t sell it.”

Cowger’s theory could
have some merit to it, as last week, it was revealed that the LCB had been put
on the state’s “30-day no credit list” for numerous late payments on purchase
orders to wholesalers.

Although the county
dispensary was quickly taken off the list the next day, it is no secret that
the LCB has intentionally increased its direct purchasing and has had its line
of credit to purchase liquor increased to $6 million.

Cowger also believes
that the LCB’s move toward the purchase and sale of wine has been another
factor in their depleting revenues.

“I’d like to see how
much wine they are sitting on down there in Snow Hill,” said Cowger. “The
liquor business as a whole is sort of crooked, because it goes all the way back
to prohibition, but I don’t necessarily believe that they are embezzling
things, I really think it’s just a case of gross mismanagement and greed for
the higher profits that come with direct purchasing.”

 

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