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Liquor enforcement chief: Nashua warehouse bid tainted by some bitter feelings

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 30. 2013 7:54PM
Eddie Edwards, chief of law enforcement for the state liquor commission answers attorney Philip McLaughlin during the removal hearing for NH Sate Liquor Commission Chairman Mark Bodi in 2010. (FILE PHOTO)

CONCORD - The outgoing chief of enforcement for the state Liquor Commission has joined a former commissioner in testifying that Law Warehouses of Nashua had no chance of getting a $200 million, 20-year warehouse contract because of hostility toward the company within the commission.

Eddie Edwards, who served eight years as chief enforcer of state liquor control laws, was questioned under oath on Monday as attorneys for Law Warehouses prepared for a critical court hearing scheduled for today at Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua.

Law is seeking an injunction that would prevent the NHLC from transferring the contract to logistics firm Exel of Westerville, Ohio, until Law's civil suit seeking to overturn the contract is resolved.

In order to obtain the injunction, Law will have to prove today that it is likely to win its case should the matter go to trial.

Under questioning by Law Warehouse attorney Chris Carter of Concord at the Monday deposition, Edwards said it was clear that Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica did not like Brian Law and was determined that Law Warehouses would not get the contract.

Edwards said he became concerned about the selection process, brought his concerns to the attention of Attorney General Michael Delaney, and was rebuffed.

Edwards described senior staff meetings of the commission, in which it became apparent to him that commissioners Mollica and Michael Milligan did not want Law to get the contract, which is consistent with Bodi's deposition and affidavit.

"I know that the commission did not really like Brian Law. I know there comments made about Brian Law not having the contract too long, or something like that," Edwards said. "And then there were comments about Brian Law specifically, that he felt he was entitled to the contract."

Edwards said there were concerns about the rates Law was charging, and complaints from some liquor brokers about the warehouse charges. "They wanted to go in a different direction, other than with Brian Law," he said. "Based upon those conversations, I did not believe that he was going to get the contract. I didn't believe that at all."

AG involved

As Edwards raised his concerns about the fairness of the process inside the commission and with the attorney general, he said he was told by Milligan that, "We're not happy with you questioning the RFP (request for proposal) process, but that's a matter for another day we'll deal with."

The commission was later criticized by lawmakers for posting a job that looked identical to Edwards' position even while Edwards was still on staff. Edwards last week announced plans to retire from the commission to become a consultant and work with government agencies and the beverage industry on matters surrounding compliance with state liquor laws.

Edwards testified that he told John Bunnell, director of the division of sales and marketing for NHLC, that the entire process was tainted.

"I said to John Bunnell, 'You know, the best thing to do is kind of stop this whole RFP process, rebid it, and allow somebody else to oversee it, because you're not going to be fair to Brian Law or anybody else in the process.'"

Edwards said he first met with Delany to express his concern about what he thought was the use of a paid lobbyist by the commission, which is forbidden for state agencies.

"When I brought up the warehouse RFP issue, he immediately interrupted me and said he was already aware of that; he'd already spoken to commissioner Bodi about it, and there was no need for me to be involved in that," Edwards said.

An email exchange between Delaney and Edwards ensued, in which Edwards wrote, "I am shocked that I let you know this and you have not investigated this."

Delaney directed Edwards to share his concerns with Attorney Steve Judge, who was hired by the state to guide the NHLC through the RFP process.

"I just thought from an ethical standpoint it was inappropriate to have people on this (RFP) review committee that had these kinds of thoughts and conversations and guidance," Edwards said.

The state has maintained that the process was not biased, but has refused to respond to specific testimony or allegations.

Judge Diane Nicolosi is scheduled to preside over the hearing on the injunction scheduled for today. She denied the state's efforts to block Bodi's deposition on the basis of executive privilege and attorney-client privilege.

The state also argued that any depositions should be held off until the judge ruled on a change of venue request by the state, which was denied on Monday. So if a trial takes place, it will be in Nashua.

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