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Texas Judges Toss TABC Case Against Spec’s

July 5, 2017

After a three-year probe of 164-unit retail juggernaut Spec’s Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) failed to produce any evidence to back dozens of allegations against the retailer and has been admonished by a pair of Texas administrative law judges. According to the Texas Tribune, which has been tracking a series of controversies at the embattled TABC, state administrative law judges examining the case tossed the TABC’s plan to rescind permits for all of Spec’s stores and fine the retailer over $700 million. Instead, the judges recommended that Spec’s receive a warning for the late payment of an invoice from a wine supplier back in 2011, and not be fined.

The TABC began investigating Spec’s back in 2013, the Tribune reported, with officials claiming the retailer had accepted millions of dollars in illegal payments from a wholesaler and fellow retailer and illegally negotiated wine prices, among other charges. But during an administrative law hearing in March, judges found no evidence of such violations and accused the agency of “stacking” charges against Spec’s in hopes of reaching a settlement. Indeed, the Tribune reported that the TABC offered Spec’s a settlement in 2015 that would have imposed a fine of $8.6 million and canceled 16 of its store permits. Spec’s refused the offer, insisting on its innocence and asserting that the TABC abused its power during the investigation, during which Spec’s new permit requests were frozen, effectively preventing its expansion.

In the wake of the Spec’s case, TABC general counsel Emily Helm has stepped down, marking the latest development in a tumultuous period at the agency. In addition to its pursuit of Spec’s, the TABC has been accused of lavish expenditures of taxpayer funds and other instances of alleged regulatory overreach in recent months. Governor Greg Abbott recently appointed businessman Kevin Lilly as chairman of the TABC, tasked with overseeing reforms. —Daniel Marsteller

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