Prohibition might have been repealed in 1933, but modern-day bootleggers are still sidestepping state liquor laws. Now Vermont officials want heavier penalties for people trafficking booze from neighboring New Hampshire.
New Hampshire is one of only two states that doesn’t charge an excise tax on distilled spirits, and Vermont Commissioner of Liquor Control Patrick Delaney says it's done "a very good job in strategically positioning itself as the wine and spirits supermarket for the whole northeast region of the United States."
According to Delaney, tax-free alcohol in the Granite State has also created a bootlegger's route from New Hampshire to New York, where excise taxes on booze are especially high.
Delaney says his enforcement officers have seized two such shipments in the last six months.
"In one case, there was about $40,000 worth of product. In another case, about $28,000 worth of product," Delaney says. "Now how often does this occur? That’s really somewhat difficult to say, but my inclination is that it occurs on a somewhat regular basis."
In both instances, Delaney says the product was destined for Chinese restaurants in Manhattan. And he says the existing maximum fine of $1,000 for transporting distilled spirits isn't a sufficient deterrent.
Delaney has asked lawmakers to up the fine to $5,000.
“If people can make money breaking the law, we would like to have a penalty that’s commensurate with the seriousness of the infraction, and hopefully to discourage people from making bad decisions,” Delaney says.
Delaney says the financial incentives for bootlegging are particularly high during the times of year when New Hampshire liquor stores offer special sales and or rebates on purchases. And he says New Hampshire authorities have until now been unwilling to crack down at the source.
“We observe their store employees loading up the vehicles, which clearly had out-of-state plates, and the business is transacted with cash, so there seems to be a certain oblivious aspect to this as it relates to New Hampshire law enforcement and the employees of the liquor stores,” Delaney says.
Delaney says he’s contacted New Hampshire officials about activity, and told them Vermont “would appreciate it if they would pay a little bit closer attention.”
“They’ve indicated a willingness to do so,” Delaney says. “Now to what extent that materializes, one can only imagine.”
Delaney says Vermonters are permitted to bring up to 9 liters of distilled spirits — the equivalent of one case of 750-milliliter bottles — across state lines.