BERLIN – It has come to light recently the Liquor Control Board (LCB) for Worcester County’s executive director, charged with setting policy and negotiating contracts among other things for all issues related to liquor distribution and sales in the county, has a sordid past including felony convictions for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and money laundering, but more than a decade later, the seemingly contrite county liquor boss is attempting to put his nefarious past behind him.
In 1998, Brian Keith Sturgeon was indicted in U.S. District Court on 12 felony charges from conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud to aiding and abetting mail and wire fraud and from money laundering to making false declarations before a grand jury. He was later convicted and sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison and forced to pay over $2.3 million in restitution to the victims of the scams along with his co-conspirators, including his employer whom he considered a close friend.
Years later, Sturgeon has paid his debt to society, although it is uncertain if he ever followed through entirely on his share of the restitution to the victims, and put the pieces of his life back together. He eventually took a private sector job and quickly ascended to the position of national sales director before being hired as executive director of the Worcester County LCB two years ago.
In recent months, murmurs about the county liquor boss’s less than flattering past began circulating in the community and misinformation spread like wildfire as it is prone to do in the oversized small town that is Worcester County. This week, Sturgeon set the record straight on his past felony convictions and apologized for his actions. In a society of second and third chances, the LCB executive came clean in the hopes of redemption.
“I thought I had put it past me, but I guess in some sense, I knew it was out there and would come up again someday,” he said. “When you’re in a public position, people have a right to look at your life. This is all in the public record and people have a right to know. I just hope they judge me on my present performance and future actions and not what I did in the past several years ago.”
As a condition of his probation following his release, Sturgeon was required to notify any employer of his felony convictions and was precluded from taking any position as an investment advisor or personal or corporate asset manager. When he completed his probation and prepared to re-enter the corporate world, he provided full disclosure to his potential employers about his past including the Worcester County LCB Board of Directors several years later.
Questions have arisen how an individual with such felony convictions could be hired to run the county’s liquor control board, but LCB Board of Directors Chairman Don Hastings said this week the board was well aware of Sturgeon’s past and was not dissuaded from hiring him to lead the agency.
“We knew about some of the problems he had in his past with investing and other issues,” he said. “He told us up front he had some things in his past, and we were comfortable with it moving forward. He made a mistake – it wasn’t a terrible mistake – and he paid for it. We would prefer he didn’t have the problems in the past, but he told us about them and we were all comfortable with it.”
In the 1990s, Sturgeon went to work for Lyons Capital Inc., an investment firm owned and operated by the flamboyant Otto Von Bressendorf, a self-proclaimed Baron from Germany who had been in the business of acting as a liaison of sorts between those seeking investment for projects and those with the money to invest. Von Bressendorf had been at the business for 40 years and Sturgeon believed his company had a good reputation, but when Lyons Capital starting struggling, Von Bressendorf began taking up front fees from investors and never connecting them to the big money people, essentially a type of pyramid scheme, and the fragile house of cards began crumbling.
Meanwhile, Sturgeon and the then 70-year-old Von Bressendorf had become close friends and both envisioned a day when Sturgeon would take over the company. When prosecutors began poking around about tax problems, they uncovered Lyons Capital and Von Bressendorf’s shady business practices and launched a major investigation into the company and its major players eventually leading to charges of conspiracy, money laundering, fraud, mail and wire tapping and other illegal activities. As one of Von Bressendorf’s top officers, Sturgeon was quickly implicated in the scandal.
“When the prosecutor accused him of fraud, I thought it couldn’t be true,” he said. “I was never charged with any overt crime. The thing about conspiracy law is, once you’re implicated, everything you did before or after becomes part of the conspiracy and you’re charged with everything the people at the top of the conspiracy are charged with.”
Sturgeon said this week he had become somewhat enamored with the charming Baron and what he was offering. When it came to throwing Von Bressendorf under the bus to save himself, Sturgeon said he lied to federal prosecutors to protect his employer.
“What I really feel I did wrong was perjure myself,” he said. “I lied to protect a friend. I really thought of him as a friend. I had recently lost my father and sometimes when you’re in a crisis, you get drawn in closer to the people around you.”
Nonetheless, Sturgeon is not deflecting blame and has come clean on his role in the company’s illegal activities.
“It was wrong and I’m not denying I did anything illegal,” he said. “When you break the law, you have to own up to it and you should be punished. I paid dearly for it. I lost several years of my life. There was house arrest, followed by incarceration in a prison camp, followed by a very difficult probation period. I paid dearly for it and I’m still paying for it after all these years. I just hate for this to become an embarrassment for the LCB.”
Of course, the LCB works directly with the hundreds of liquor license holders in the county and the relationship has not always been rosy. When the Worcester County Licensed Beverage Association (WCLBA) learned this week of Sturgeon’s past activities, officials expressed disappointment with the apparent double standard. Before being issued a liquor license, potential candidates undergo strict background checks and cannot have any felony convictions.
“We diligently try to work with the liquor control board, the County Commissioners and our state delegates, sometimes to no avail,” said WCLBA President Doug Buxbaum. “It’s unfortunate we’re scrutinized in every direction and yet it seems those running the show, so to speak, are held to a different standard, or even no standard at all.”
When asked about the apparent double standard, Sturgeon said his agency has nothing to do with the licensing side of the liquor business in the county.
“I have tried ever since that day to live an exemplary life,” he said. “In many ways, it prepared me for the next phase of my life. I have to be twice as good and twice as effective as anybody else who might be in my position. I’ve never said I didn’t do it or tried to hide from it in any way. I just feel like I have something to prove just about everyday.”
Meanwhile, Hastings questioned why Sturgeon’s past had suddenly become an issue.
“He’s doing a fantastic job for us,” he said. “Wherever this is coming from now, whatever or whoever the source of this is, you have to question what their motivation is. Why is this coming to light now? I’m sure there are people outside Worcester County who are not happy with him.”