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A Pennsylvania man was accused of illegally peddling wine; he denied the claims, and he won't face charges

The wine bottles have been confiscated and could be dumped; a hospital wants to auction them off for charity

CNN —  

The case is being called “Pennsylvania vs. 2,447 Bottles of Wine.”

Caught in the middle of a legal battle between the state and Arthur Goldman is a wine collection – valued between $150,000 to $200,000 – that once sat in his Malvern, Pennsylvania, cellar.

In 2014, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office accused Goldman, who did not have a license to sell alcohol, of peddling his 97-page wine list to a private group of people.

All liquor stores in Pennsylvania are operated by the state’s Liquor Control Board, and it is illegal for individuals to sell wine. It is also illegal to bring any alcohol, including wine, purchased outside of the state into Pennsylvania without having certain licenses.

People who move into the state must have their alcohol or wine collection movement approved by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board in advance, according to the board’s website.

After receiving a tip in 2013 that Goldman was selling wine illegally, an undercover State Police agent contacted Goldman and received a list of wine that was available for sale “either from his personal wine cellar or that he could order that were not available in Pennsylvania,” a release said.

The agent conducted multiple undercover purchases at his home. The District Attorney’s Office said, at the time of his arrest, that it believed Goldman sold the wines “knowing that it was illegal.”

“This was not some casual exchange of wine between friends – the defendant was running a highly organized, high-volume illegal business operation to make money,” said First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone. “This was a brazen violation of the law by someone who clearly knew better.’

Goldman is an attorney who practices in Pennsylvania.

His attorney, Peter E. Kratsa, said the couple’s collection was a hobby, not a business.

“This wasn’t a retail inventory. This was about collecting and enjoying fine bottles for personal consumption,” Kratsa said in an email to CNN. “It’s almost impossible not to run afoul of antiquated liquor laws in (Pennsylvania) while being a wine connoisseur because the laws impede the ability to freely enjoy good wine.”

What happens to the wine

As for the 2,447 bottles of wine – their fate is partly still up in the air.

According to settlement reached last week, Goldman and his wife, Melissa Kurtzman, were allowed to pick out 1,047 bottles of wine from their collection to keep – the last bottled they selected was a Shiraz from Wayne Gretzky’s vineyard in Ontario, which was back in their home by last week.

Noone said that Goldman is now in a first offender diversionary program, and if he successfully completes it, he can move to have the unlawful sale of alcohol arrest removed from his record.

Per the settlement, the couple will accept the wine “as is” – knowing that the wine may not have been stored properly, as it was kept in a police evidence room. Goldman will not face charges.

But what happens to the other 1,400 bottles of wine is what’s leaving some queasy.

The Pennsylvania State Police plan to destroy the 1,400 bottles of wine that the couple will forfeit, which is standard practice for any seized alcohol.

The Daily Local News in West Chester reported that Chester County Hospital filed a petition to take control of the remaining bottles of wine, in hopes of auctioning it off to raise funds for the nonprofit hospital. The hospital is part of an October Wine Festival meant to raise money for its cancer program. Calls to the hospital and its attorney were not immediately returned.

Kratsa said that the couple hopes the hospital will get the wine, and that their wish has always been “that it be donated to an appropriate entity that can benefit from its sale, rather than be destroyed.”

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s chief counsel, Faith Smith Diehl, wrote a letter to the presiding judge in the case, urging her to consider the hospital’s offer.

If not, the board would be willing to itself take the wine and auction it off, with Diehl writing that selling some of the “rare and hard to obtain vintages” could financially benefit the state.

Pennsylvania’s Prohibition-era liquor laws

The couple’s case is a symptom of Pennsylvania’s Prohibition-era liquor laws, something legislators have been trying to overhaul for nearly 30 years.

The state House and Senate passed a bill in June that would privatize the state’s system. Rep. Duane Milne, who represents Goldman’s district, voted for the bill, which would auction off the state’s entire liquor system and make liquor licenses available to private individuals.

“It’s certainly antiquated; it’s not consumer friendly,” Milne said. “It’s not a system where responsible adults find a convenient way to shop for these products. Someone who is of legal age should not be constricted.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed that legislation in July, saying that while the state’s liquor system does need to be modernized, the bill that was passed would result in higher prices for customers.