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Cops Seized Couple's $160,000 Wine Collection—And Want to Destroy It All

When it comes to alcohol laws, Pennsylvania is about as close to Saudi Arabia as you can get in America.

WinePublic DomainEarlier this year, after a months-long undercover investigation, Pennsylvania state police agents served a warrant on the home of Arthur Goldman, an attorney, and his wife, Melissa Kurtzman.

The police, who had made undercover buys at the home before, easily found what they were looking for. And they found lots of it. In a raid that lasted twenty hours, police seized thousands of ounces of alleged contraband from the couple's home.

In addition to the seizure, police charged Mr. Goldman with a crime.

So just what was it that led police to target the homeowners? Cocaine? Marijuana? Meth? Raw milk?

None of the above. This bizarre and infuriating case involves no illicit substance whatsoever. It's a case about wine. Legally purchased wine, at that.

Goldman and Kurtzman are now fighting the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in court. They argue the state's seizure of more than 2,400 bottles of fine wine is unconstitutional and are seeking to force Pennsylvania to return the entire collection. The state, on the other hand, has designs on destroying the wine.

I first heard about the case earlier this year, after Pennsylvania authorities seized the wine. But my interest in the case was renewed recently when a law student in a class I taught at George Mason University Law School this semester wrote a paper on Pennsylvania's absurd liquor laws. She used the case of Pennsylvania v. 2,447 Bottles of Wine—a case that owes its name to an odd quirk of property seizure cases, which pit the state not against the property owners but against the property itself—to illustrate the sheer breadth and idiocy of the state's liquor laws. (Notably, one of the more memorable cases I read when I was a law student was United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, a case from the early 1900s in which the FDA tried to ban caffeine from appearing in soda.)

The story of Pennsylvania's seizure of 2,400 bottles of wine dates to 2006, according to new filings in the case that I've reviewed, when Goldman and Krutzman married. Goldman purchased wine—including over the internet—on a regular basis. The couple housed their growing wine collection at their New Jersey home. They continued to do so for the next seven years. And their collection grew as a result.

Goldman, who appears to have enjoyed talking about wine as much as buying it, also gained access to inventories in California that were off limits to everyday wine buyers. Generously, he invited friends and colleagues to join in purchasing wines from these California suppliers to which he had this rare access. He did this by distributing information to an email list made up of these friends and colleagues. They would pool their orders, Goldman would place the order, and the wines would arrive at Goldman's New Jersey home or at a nearby FedEx office. Goldman would then distribute the wines to those who'd ordered them. Goldman and those who'd ordered the wines shared the costs of the wine, taxes, shipment, and any other fees. While Goldman gave these friends and colleagues access to great wines that they otherwise might not be able to buy, Goldman never charged any fees or made any profit from these pooled wine orders.

It seems like Goldman did everything he could to buck the traditional lawyer stereotype. He enjoyed conversation, he was encouraging, he was willing to donate his time and social capital to help others, and he did all that without expecting something in return. He sounds like the kind of person—let alone lawyer—you'd be happy to know.

In 2013, Goldman and his wife bought a home in Malvern, Pennsylvania. They continued to use the New Jersey home as their primary residence and as the storage space for their ample wine collection.

Why? Maybe work or family commitments dictated they remain in New Jersey. Maybe moving thousands of bottles of wine is costly. Or maybe it's that Pennsylvania famously boasts many idiotic, counterintuitive, and completely unnecessary alcohol laws.

That's no exaggeration. Want to buy wine over the internet? Pennsylvania says go right ahead, so long as the buyer gets "it shipped to the Wine & Spirits Store of their choice." The state wants to keep an eye on what you're buying—especially because it won't let you buy wines that are available in the state store.

Want to ship wine to Pennsylvania? It's easy! Just "add a $4.50 handling fee, Pennsylvania's 18% liquor tax, 6% sales tax (and 2% sales tax in Philadelphia or 1% Allegheny counties)." The state wants a cut of your purchase.

Driving through Pennsylvania with a few bottles of wine, and think it's alright to stop off at hotel for the night? Since your wine's not "merely transported through the state, without stopping[,]" the law would seem to indicate that you need a buy a license for that wine—whether you drink it or leave it in the car.

That's because "[t]he law prohibits anyone other than the Board, a manufacturer, the holder of a sacramental wine license or importer's license from bringing alcohol into Pennsylvania, and from possessing or transporting any liquor or alcohol within the Commonwealth that was not purchased from a Pennsylvania wine and spirits store[.]"

And then there are the ridiculous state stores.

All told, Pennsylvania is "the only state besides Utah to control retail and wholesale liquor operations, residents must purchase wine and spirits from state stores or in-state wineries."

Photo Credit: Public Domain

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  • ||

    With regards to alcohol the state of Pennsylvania appears indistinguishable from old school mafia.

    Cant wait to see what legalized MJ looks like.

  • straffinrun||

    Penn vs a bottle of wine. The only criminal that'll serve a dime and be worth more upon release.

  • morganovich||

    only if stored properly.

    if the sate leaves it in a non climate controlled warehouse somewhere, it may come back as vinegar.

  • Don'tTreadOnMe||

    Unless it shares a cell with a cork screw...

  • Ted S.||

    She used the case of Pennsylvania v. 2,447 Bottles of Wine

    The bottles of wine, of course, have no mens rea. One more reason why asset forfeiture is such an evil idea and the people enforcing it are morally wicked people.

  • Doctor Whom||

    That, and in rem jurisdiction is a handy way to sidestep the owner's nasty old Constitutional rights.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    In so many ways, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sucks ass. We have a bloated, full-time legislature that's useless to anything but special interests.

  • Paul.||

    We have a bloated, full-time legislature that's useless to anything but special interests.

    So, it's quite useful then.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Testing the limits of that generosity, the officers concocted a story about looking for a special wedding gift of wine. Though Goldman wasn't in the business of selling wine, he made an exception, selling to undercover agents a total of four or five bottles—at cost—from his personal collection.

    Is purchasing wine from an unlicensed seller illegal? We know that wasting taxpayer dollars and using violence to secure jobs for bureaucrats and state store operators isn't.

  • ||

    Yes, it is, and this is true in nearly every state. Pennsylvania is the rule, not the exception. In most states that don't have a "state store" system, the laws are just as convoluted and draconian, but the beneficiaries are the connected distributors and wholesalers.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    *cough* John Mccain's wife *cough*

  • juris imprudent||

    The law is for little people mac, you must know that. If you don't, we can arrange some remedial education.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Guy was not giving the government their cut. All the government did was seize his inventory. Guy is lucky that he put in a choke hold, thrown down on the ground, and suffocated during the raid. Or at least fire some flashbangs in his house to get the message across.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Sounds to me like fraud and entrapment. I hope this case goes to a jury, and the jury returns a verdict of "fuck da pigs".

    -jcr

  • ||

    1) It's a shame cops have to waste time enforcing such retarded laws by performing an undercover sting for....wine. It's nuts.
    2) And you people say Canuckistan is bad. Tell you what, I rarely see cases like this up here where the cops steal property from citizens. Mostly because, I think, we don't have too many puritanical laws on the books. Dumb laws sure, but to the point where cops fuck citizens like this? Not sure.

    /knocks on wood.

  • ||

    Four letters for you: LCBO.

  • ||

    And the SAQ.

    I agree - I briefly had to deal with the racket boys at the SAQ years ago - but as far as I know (and this is my point) the laws aren't applied like they seem to down in the USA.

    I could be wrong but never seen it and Quebec is one of the largest consumers of wine on the continent so I imagine there are quite a few people like Mr. Goldman who do similar things.

    Again, this is just my anecdotal impression based on experience.

  • Slocum||

    " In some provinces, no one on board can consume alcoholic beverages while the boat is being operated. In Ontario, you can't even transport alcohol unless the boat is classed as a "home" (see below). There are differences between provinces, but all require alcohol on board to be packaged and out of reach."

    "In Ontario, when you visit shore or even on your own boat, provincial law says you must not "display alcohol to the public". That might include a bottle of alcohol sitting in your boat's cockpit. Alcohol consumed at a picnic table on a dock or ashore is usually illegal."

    http://boating.ncf.ca/alcohol.html

  • F. Stupidity, Jr.||

    No one needs 2,400 bottles of wine.

  • Mass||

    So what's your point? All anyone REALLY needs is basic shelter and daily sustenance. Should that be the standard we all live by?

  • Andrew S.||

    Woosh.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Paramount bans showings of Team America: World Police in place of The Interview

    http://hotair.com/archives/201.....interview/

  • AlmightyJB||

    I've said this before. We have way too many cops. The fact that they have to create crime in order to have stuff to do simply proves that. The fact that almost any infraction requires a swat team response also proves that.

  • Knarf Yenrab!||

    You know those NY public school rubber rooms where they put the problem teachers they can't fire due to the strength of the union?

    I propose rubber rooms for all public employees. Congratulations on being elected/hired, now sit in this room and don't bother anyone while collecting your salary. Instant economic stimulus.

  • C. Anacreon||

    Why not send some of them out to break windows while you're at it?

  • creech||

    Gov. Corbett lost re-election (only GOP gov. to do so)in part because his promise to privatize the liquor control system was defeated by members of his own party who couldn't say NO to the strong unionized state store employees.
    Thankfully, I live close enough to Delaware to smuggle my supplies in.

  • juris imprudent||

    Every couple of months I make a trip to Costco in Delaware. It is weird, we do have good micro-breweries here.

    So it was the fucking Repubs that torpedo'ed liquor privatization? WTF? Since when are they so beholden to a public employee clique (other than cops of course)?

  • Mastro63||

    The Democrats refuse to even talk about it- the Republicans do- but they gain more in kickbacks than the goodwill of the voters.

  • Rhywun||

    My god, I can't imagine having to deal with state goons just to buy a damn bottle of liquor. NY is a bastion of freedom in comparison.

  • juris imprudent||

    My choice was PA, MD or DE. Yes, the liquor laws suck (though I did not know they suck this bad) - but the gun laws in the other two suck worse.

  • Don'tTreadOnMe||

    PA makes MD look like….oh, never mind…...

  • Libertarian||

    JUDGE: Counsel, I want to see you both in my chambers. Oh, and bring some glasses.

  • Uncle Jay||

    ...and I don't mean the glasses on your noses.

  • morganovich||

    even if he wins, the victory will likely be Pyrrhic.

    wanna bet the state is not keeping the wine in a temperature and humidity controlled environment?

    by the time he gets it back, much or all of it may be ruined depending on where they kept it.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Sure, but bad upon actions, the state authorities likely call this a feature... the bugs that they are.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    ...but based upon actions...

    Meh

  • Cap'n Krunch||

    This isn't actually a constitutional matter. Keeping wine is not an constitutionally enumerated and guaranteed right (and it seems it wouldn't matter if it were since both the federal and state governments walk roughshod over those every day). It's a power granted to the states. Stupid and irrational yes, unconstitutional no.

  • juris imprudent||

    Did someone raise a constitutional issue? I thought we were all just mocking the social retards and their insistence on controlling what you and I consume?

  • mpercy||

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

  • LarryA||

    Well, there's the whole "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" in the Fifth Amendment.

  • John C. Randolph||

    This isn't actually a constitutional matter.

    Yes it is. The wine was stolen under the pretext of "civil forfeiture" which is very clearly prohibited by the fifth amendment.

    -jcr

  • PaulInPgh||

    Perhaps but there's already a precedent in the state that if the wine is ordered to be returned and found to have been damaged in anyway while the state held it, they will be required to replace it or compensate the owner to his satisfaction if they are unable to.

    Western PA during the Clinton era when the so called "assault weapons ban" was in force. A gun collector, and member of law enforcement, made an allegation against another private collector and police acted on it by seizing the collection. As is common practice each of the guns seized was fired so they could be tested for links to other gun crimes. The courts ruled against the police and order the guns returned the collector refused to take possession filing a suit claiming the value of the guns, many of which were historical pieces never before fired, had been destroyed due to the actions of the police. He won and since many of the guns couldn't be replaced they didn't exist they had to pay him many times their original value to settle the suit.

    Like the guns the value of the wine is based on their rarity and lack of availability and their condition can't be verified without the bottles being opened, the state better hope it wins the case because if it doesn't they'll be writing checks until their arms fall off to the owner until he's satisfied that he's been compensated. And I'll bet the amount it takes to get him feeling that way is an that amount is many times $160,000.

  • Smilin' Joe Fission||

    the state better hope it wins the case because if it doesn't they'll be writing checks until their arms fall off to the owner until he's satisfied that he's been compensated.

    You mean the tax payers will be writing checks and the cops will go on business as usual.

  • juris imprudent||

    Procedures were followed, officers went home safely... what more could you ask for?

  • Árboles de la Barranca||

    The cops could have asked that the victim had a dog so they could have shot it.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    And I'll bet the amount it takes to get him feeling that way is an that amount is many times $160,000.

    And none of the goons involved will give a shit because it will be someone else's money that pays for their actions.

  • Paul.||

    At some point, someone other than the 22 or so regular posters here are going to have to realize that lawsuits and their subsequent payouts aren't doing anything to restore accountability in government.

  • Don'tTreadOnMe||

    Interesting case, but….
    1. It's not about the money to the wine owner (or the gun owner).
    2. Who exactly paid (pays) for the damages?

  • juris imprudent||

    Would even a French spammer want a Citroen?

  • ||

    That's hilarious. They use Citroen to make their claim more 'believable'.

    Sounds better than 'I just bought a top of the line Maserati.'

  • db||

    I've always had a chuckle at a car brand name that basically means "lemon."

  • Paul.||

    Is the Citroen not the Pride of France?

  • C. Anacreon||

    Great cars typically have a masculine visage. Citroen front ends have always looked like gaping vaginas. If that's the pride of France, well, say no more.

  • rudehost||

    I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for the cops who "infiltrated" this organized crime ring of people having the audacity to buy wine together. I wonder how it feels to know your whole life is dedicated to making the world a worse place?

  • JeffreyinSandySprings||

    Got to love those blue states. It is the Kleptocracy at its finest. Might as well be in a banana republic as the shake down of citizens and business is so blatant.

    and what plans do the State has for the wine that they seized - destroy it. They don't even have the brains to auction it off.

    Not sure what laws these people violated. Bootlegging? If I sold a $300 vaccuum cleaner to a neighbor would I get this kind of response from the police - why is it alcohol that is the problem?

  • Rhywun||

    Meh... liquor laws are just as bad - and sometimes worse - in many "red" states.

  • Don'tTreadOnMe||

    Agreed. Liquor laws in TN are moronic. No wine in grocery stores. No beer sold before noon on Sundays….and no wine or liquor at all. WTF?!?!?!

  • RhymesWithRight||

    As i look at this article, I'm particularly struck by the existence of a "sacramental wine license". Am I alone in seeing that the state claims the authority to determine whether or not a religious organization legitimately needs wine for use in religious services? Does that not raise a serious First Amendment question?

  • juris imprudent||

    Only if they deny you a license - then you would have grounds.

    I'm thinking I need a license to import Chianti in my worship of the FSM!

  • BuSab Agent||

    When you worship the FSM do you use authentic Italian cuisine, or the faux Italian that is called spaghetti in the US?

  • juris imprudent||

    Orthodox zealot eh?

  • BuSab Agent||

    Hey, you can't be a real religion unless you have people willing to fight over trivial differences. And damn straight! His Noodlyness is best appreciated with a proper ragu and not some silly tomato paste slime.

  • Thomas O.||

    Us Del Monteites are a small bunch, but we're constantly at odds with the Pregotists.

  • RhymesWithRight||

    So i suppose that you would also agree that a license required to be permitted to write for or publish a newspaper is unobjectionable until someone is denied one?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Stories like this one have convinced me that CA isn't all that bad compared to other states.

  • juris imprudent||

    My wife had to deal with the Harrisburg bureaucracy and honestly - they actually made the CA bureaucracy look good.

    That isn't an easy thing to do.

  • Don'tTreadOnMe||

    Ah, you're dead wrong….

  • ||

    I can just imagine the racket that goes on behind the scenes of the Pennsylvanian liquor board. If it's anything like Quebec's SAQ...

    Unionized SAQ workers make anywhere between $22 and $28 PER HOUR to sell fricken alcohol.

    http://nodogsoranglophones.blo.....raise.html

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    http://www.Jobs-spot.com

  • mfinchjennifer||

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  • Freddy B||

    I'm tempted to start asking progressive socialists what change they want, since I'm already forced to live in their utopia. This is a perfect example of that utopia, how could they want more?

  • LarryA||

    This is a perfect example of that utopia, how could they want more?

    Oh ye of little skepticism.

  • UCrawford||

    "No one is obligated to follow an unjust law."

    Ummm...I don't think that's the case. Certainly no one is obligated to accept an unjust law as inviolable or unchangeable, but the consequences of breaking even unjust laws certainly obligate many people to follow them.

  • Zan Lynx||

    Those laws sound almost the same as laws commonly applied to guns.

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  • Tspud1||

    Cops are allowed to drink while on duty?

  • DenverJay||

    They didn't swallow...

  • xsnake||

    Bloody lawyer should know better.

  • Taggart||

    I don't think it's true that Utah and PA are the only states where you have to buy wine in a state store. I had to the last time I was in Maryland, unless that has changed. They didn't sell it in the grocery store. Also, liquor laws vary by county as well as by state. There are still many dry counties in the south, where you cannot buy beer, wine, or liquor at all, or you have to join a "club" to drink. But this encourages me not to move to PA. As if I needed more encouragement.

  • Donut-san||

    Maryland has privately owned liquor stores where you can by liquor, beer, and wine; there are no state stores. Beer and wine can be sold in convenience stores, depending on the county.

  • GreenLantern||

    ...and let's not forget that PA is the state which provided the law against selling bongs under which Tommy Chong was prosecuted, even though he lived and worked in CA.

  • SimonJester||

    What happened to the "four or five bottles" that he sold them. My guess is they were consumed by the police officers just to make sure they really were wine.

  • ||

    As a native Pennsylvanian, I could never understand why the people of Pennsylvania put up with such an absurd, oppressive system. I guess the fix is in.

  • Mastro63||

    I was just on a business trip to Delaware- on my way home I hit a big box booze store and socked up for the holidays/year. A guy was impressed with my two case haul- and said "You must be having a party"- I said "No- I'm from PA" He laughed knowingly.

    Oh- that's one of the reasons PA has these crazy laws- if anyone in Philly or near any border has a party- they just drive to Jersey, Delaware (no sales tax, either) etc- So we don't get so annoyed we actually change it.

  • HotPepper00||

    Pennsylvania and Utah are not the only states that control liquor sales. Oregon doesn't have state stores, but there is the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission)

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