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Virginia ABC employee pleads guilty for felony computer trespass in bourbon scandal

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Bourbon available for purchase at the Virginia ABC on North Thompson Street in Richmond is shown on Friday. Authorities allege a scheme involving selling hard-to-find bourbon liquor. 

A former sales associate for Virginia ABC has pleaded guilty to felony computer trespass and embezzling the authority’s inventory list of high-demand and limited-availability bourbons that was allegedly sold to online bourbon hunting groups.

In front of Hanover County Circuit Court Judge John Overton Harris on Monday, Edgar Smith Garcia, 28, of Manassas pleaded guilty to computer trespass. He was sentenced to two years in prison, which were suspended for five years on the condition of good behavior, according to Virginia ABC.

Garcia must pay a $600 fine and is banned from all Virginia ABC property. Three other charges for embezzlement, conspiracy to embezzle and conspiracy computer trespass were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

Earlier this year, conspiracy theories about an employee selling insider information was flying among whiskey enthusiasts, and Virginia ABC pulled allocated bourbon from its shelves. In April, Virginia ABC rolled out a new “randomized” way to purchase in-demand allocated bourbon.

Garcia was a lead sales associate from Feb. 14, 2020, through March 25, 2022. The charges were based on allegations that Garcia, as an ABC employee, had access to an internal list of the agency’s allocated liquor products that was not available to the public. Garcia then provided the information to Robert William Adams, 45, of Newport News, who had a private Facebook page, and Adams would release the information to his subscribers who would pay him $300 each for access.

ABC’s Bureau of Law Enforcement initiated a criminal investigation in partnership with other enforcement entities, which led to the two men being charged.

Adams is scheduled to appear in Hanover Circuit Court on Dec. 12. The cases are being tried in Hanover because that’s where Virginia ABC recently moved its new headquarters and distribution center from Hermitage Road in Richmond.

Earlier this year, ABC conducted an extensive internal review of its limited availability products distribution following complaints of unfair sales activity. The investigation focused on various labels of high-demand, limited-availability bourbons allocated by the government-run liquor monopoly.

The agency has compiled a list of more than 100 products that are not readily available to meet public demand, but occasionally offered for sale at randomly selected ABC stores at one bottle per customer per day. Some of the sought-after bourbons include Buffalo Trace, Booker’s Bourbon and Blanton’s Single Barrel.

In the spring, the agency rolled out a new “randomized” program of selling allocated bourbon and other spirits that Virginia ABC CEO Travis Hill said at the time was designed to give all interested parties an equal shot at buying the liquors.

The goal was to make the products as accessible as possible and correct a system where bourbon hunters or whiskey enthusiasts were camping outside Virginia ABC stores when they thought or caught wind that a shipment of allocated whiskey was coming in.

Now, Virginia ABC announces on its Spirited Virginia Facebook or Instagram page that certain stores will have the allocated bourbon for purchase. That system has been in place since April.

During the investigation, ABC worked with the Virginia State Police Criminal Investigation Division, which assisted with serving search warrants and analyzing electronic evidence. Evidence uncovered during the investigation led to the charges against Garcia and Adams.

“We identified a case where an employee worked with an outside individual in violation of ABC policy and Virginia law in the use of inventory information,” Hill said. “We are pleased with today’s outcome in Hanover Circuit Court and confident that new distribution methods put in place in April with lessons learned by this incident ensure an equitable environment for customers.”

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency for Virginia on Wednesday, as Hurricane Ian slammed into the southwestern coast of Florida and started a destructive path north. Remnants of the powerful storm could result in heavy rains and flooding in the commonwealth in the coming days.

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