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DABC shuts down Utah liquor store over missing money

Posted at 12:01 PM, Sep 26, 2017

TREMONTON, Utah - In a rare move, Utah's alcohol control authority has ordered the closure of a liquor store after a history of missing money.

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission voted unanimously to terminate a contract it had for the tiny Tremonton package agency store. During its monthly meeting, the DABC heard reports of numerous shortages. Audits conducted by the agency found a $3,000 shortage in January, an $11,000 shortage in June and a $2,000 shortage in August. DABC staffers said there were other shortages "on and off" in previous years.

DABC employees clean out the Tremonton liquor store, which was ordered to shut down. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

A package agency is not a state-run liquor store per se, but a contract the state has with someone to operate a small store in an under-served area. Package agencies are scattered around the state in rural areas.

At Tuesday's meeting, DABC commissioners expressed concern that Tremonton store owner Robert McLachlan had moved out of state. McLachlan offered to move back once he sold his home, and blamed the missing money on former store employees. He brought a check to the meeting to make good on any remaining shortfalls and told commissioners he may go to police over any missing funds.

"I'd still like to run it, that's all I can say," McLachlan, who added he had run the store for more than 30 years, told the commission. "I would be taking it over again and I’d ensure there’d be no more shortages."

Robert McLachlan, the owner of the Tremonton contract liquor store, speaks to the DABC commission on Sept. 26, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

DABC commissioners debated the impact terminating a contract would have on Tremonton residents. As a liquor control state, Utah sells and supplies alcohol. Commission chairman John Nielsen said he was worried about no longer being able to provide a service to Tremonton.

"We're looking at a situation where we have to take some drastic action," newly appointed DABC commissioner Tom Jacobson said.

The commission voted unanimously to terminate the Tremonton liquor store contract and close the store. DABC staffers then drove to Tremonton and removed any remaining product from the shelves.

"It's a real pain in the ass," one customer told FOX 13 when he pulled up to find the store closed. He said he would have to drive to Brigham City or cross the border to Malad, Idaho to purchase alcohol.

With the immediate closure of the Tremonton store, the nearest liquor stores are in Brigham City and Logan. DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos said the state would take new bids for another package agency in Tremonton.

Also at the DABC meeting on Tuesday:

  • Commissioner Olivia Vela-Agraz abruptly resigned. The commission announced she had moved to Virginia and stepped down from the DABC. Agraz was one of three known drinkers on the commission. Governor Gary Herbert will choose a replacement subject to Utah State Senate confirmation.
  • The DABC announced that effective Sept. 30, it will no longer accept personal and business checks to pay for liquor in state-run stores.
  • Liquor continues to be big business in Utah. The DABC reported nearly $12 million in retail sales year-to-date for August. That's a 19% increase. The DABC said recent price hikes factored into that, plus additional sales days.