Earlier 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.
When it comes to alcohol laws, as I've insinuated previously, Pennsylvania is about as close to Saudi Arabia as you can get in America. To illustrate that point, fast forward to March 2013. It was then that, while Goldman's and his wife's wine collection slept soundly at their New Jersey home, an "anonymous complainant reported" Goldman to Pennsylvania's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BCLE) for allegedly selling wine in Pennsylvania without a license.
It's unclear who the informant is or what they claimed Goldman had done. But that same month, an undercover BCLE officer "infiltrated... Mr. Goldman's mailing list." The officer then made a buy (to use undercover cop parlance), joining in one of Goldman's pooled orders from California. This officer was soon joined on the list by another undercover officer, who posed as his stepdaughter, and still another officer, who posed as the second officer's fiance. These officers also joined in the pooled orders.
Continuing with his generosity, Goldman shared glasses of his own wine with the undercover officers in his home. He gave them a tour of his wine cellar, which by July 2014 was located in his Malvern home, now the marital residence. 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.
Soon afterwards, on January, 6, 2014, Pennsylvania police raided the home and seized more than 2,400 bottles of wine. They charged Goldman was an unlicensed wine dealer who made purchases in contravention of state law, and that his alleged crimes required Pennsylvania to destroy the entirety of the couple's wine collection—worth an estimated $160,000. Goldman pled down the criminal "charge by entering a first-offender program," according to reports. Goldman also must write a letter to the local bar association explaining why it's important to follow the law.
No one is obligated to follow an unjust law. But that doesn't matter in this case, because it doesn't appear Goldman broke any law. I wish I could say the same for the police in this case.
Here's hoping the court forces the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to return all of the wine to Goldman and Kurtzman. More importantly, I hope this case will finally convince Pennsylvania lawmakers to demolish the embarrassing eyesore that is the state's liquor laws.
Reason.com/Dec. 21, 2014
Photos: Mr. Goldman-Bizjournals.com; wine-Philly.com