When investigators with the Office of the Attorney General and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Department of Revenue ordered wine online, 22 out of 63 companies shipped to Mississippi.
The problem: It's illegal to ship alcohol into Mississippi. Also, some of them shipped to underage customers and into dry counties.
A complaint was filed last month against four of those wine companies, Attorney General Jim Hood's office said Thursday.
In Mississippi, alcohol shipments to an individual or business are illegal if the purchase is not made directly through the ABC. The complaint, which was filed in Rankin County Chancery Court, seeks injunctive relief against the following wine merchants: Wine Express, Inc. of Mt. Kisco, New York; The California Wine Club, of Ventura, California; Gold Medal Wine Club of Santa Barbara, California; and Bottle Deals Inc. of Syosset, New York.
"Obviously it’s illegal to ship into Mississippi. Many people don’t understand that. People think since the internet’s coming into play it must be legal that they’re shipping here," said Hood.
Hood said at this point his office is just doing their jobs, but he understands a lot of people like the convenience of ordering online.
"The place to fix that law is to walk across the street over here at the legislature. It's our duty to enforce it," he said. "The reason is the taxes we’re entitled to. We’re losing millions of dollars a year because so many companies are shipping alcohol into the state."
There is a revenue loss to the state of approximately $6 lost on every $25 bottle of wine. If the injunction is granted, the companies would be required to train and educate their employees on liquor shipment laws in Mississippi and would also be required to place disclaimers in any advertisements placed in Mississippi to clarify such shipments are not available in the state.
"Two years ago I wouldn’t have said this was a problem. I’ve been around a long long time, and there’s a generation of people now who buy everything online," said ABC Chief of Enforcement Rusty Hanna.
Another primary concern of those purchases were the ones made in the name of an underage person or delivered to a home without an individual over the age of 21 being there at the time of delivery.
"One of the children we used was one of our investigators' children’s names and it was crystal clear that was someone under the age of 21," Hood said.
One bottle of cognac was even sent to the commissioner's office in Clinton.
"No moonshiner in the state of Mississippi would ship his product to the office of the commissioner," said Commissioner of Revenue Herb Frierson. "Bootlegging is bootlegging whether you’ve got designer clothes on or overalls."
There are currently 36 counties dry for alcoholic beverages with an additional four counties which have one of their two districts being dry. Mississippi is one of only five states that does not allow alcohol to be shipped in.
The ABC and Attorney General’s office say the investigation is ongoing and will include a review of the records of the commercial shipping companies who delivered alcohol in this state. Additional suits could be filed for other deliveries.
Therese Apel, Clarion Ledger
January 26, 2018
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