US lawyer falls foul of state wine laws22nd August, 2014 by Simon Howland
A 50-year-old lawyer avoided prison and was instead put on probation and ordered to undertake community service after breaching Pennsylvania’s state’s liquor laws, but his $125,000 collection of fine wine might not get off so lightly.
Police want to destroy 2,426 bottles of wine seized from the home of Arthur Goldman in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in January in accordance with state law, but Goldman has argued it is not your typical seizure according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Goldman, a lawyer with a practice in nearby Paoli, was charged with breaking internet wine sales laws by re-selling wines, unavailable from the state-owned liquor monopoly, without a liquor license online.
He maintained a list and kept about 20 people informed of wines he had available, one of whom was an undercover officer involved in a sting operation.
Police said officers made several undercover buys, including at Goldman’s home where some 90 boxes of wine estimated to be worth at least $US125,000 (£75,000) were kept.
Officials seized it all and charged Goldman with misdemeanours of illegally selling, purchasing and possessing or transporting liquor.
A county prosecutor described it as a “highly organized, high volume illegal business operation to make money.”
Under state liquor laws police are required to destroy bootleg booze, but wine lovers across the US have rallied in support of Goldman.
“It’s not like we’re talking about cocaine or heroin here,” said Tom Wark, executive director for the American Wine Consumer Coalition.
“We’re talking about a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2012 vintage.”
Goldman’s lawyer, Pete Kratsa, contended officials had it all wrong: “It was more like 15 to 20 people who liked wine like art, who he would get wine for.”
Kratsa insisted Goldman was grateful for his sentence, which will allow him to have his record expunged after the two-year probation was over.
But Kratsa compared Goldman’s actions to making a liquor run across state borders then charging his friends for gas, also illegal under Pennsylvania law, and argued the destruction of the stock would be excessive.
Sgt. Dan Steele, district commander at the Philadelphia Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement disagreed and said every bottle is contraband as each was offered for sale.
Kratsa argued the state would have trouble proving this case and said the majority of the collection was private and “would never have been sold.”
Pennsylvania, which has some of the strictest liquor laws in the US, is one of ten states which bans shipping directly to customers and one of two, the other being Utah, where the state government has complete control over the sale of wine and spirits.
“It is by far the worst state to live in if you’re a wine lover,” said Wark.
He said because so little of the wine available in the US can be bought in Pennsylvania the law creates the climate for an underground market.
And the law is not giving Goldman much in the way of options.
According to Kratsa, Goldman is open to having some of the wines sold with the proceeds going to charity.
But according to Renee Martin, a spokeswoman of the Attorney General’s office, unlike with other kinds of forfeitures that’s not allowed in regards to liquor under state law.
And the clock is ticking as there’s no guarantee the wines have aged well in the months since the seizure.
Since then the wine has been stored in an evidence room and Steele declined to comment on the wine’s “consumability.”
“At this point, the state police do not believe there is an obligation to store it in a climate-controlled environment,” he said.
“But it is being secured at room temperature.”