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D.C. police lodge broke the law by selling hundreds of whiskey bottles online, investigation finds

Jack Daniel's bottles discovered in storerooms of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in 2020. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

An umbrella group for police unions in Washington violated six provisions of D.C. law by setting up a “Jack Daniel’s Fundraising Committee” that sold and shipped hundreds of bottles of whiskey without proper licenses, according to an investigator’s report for the city’s alcohol control board.

The report by investigator Kevin A. Puente confirmed details about the liquor-selling operation at the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge that were first reported in November by The Washington Post.

The Post reported that the lodge, with membership including thousands of active and retired police officers, sold more than 3,000 bottles of Jack Daniel’s whiskey between 2017 and 2019, taking in more than $500,000. Many bottles were shipped to customers in other states. The lodge’s own internal investigation concluded that it had never obtained a license to sell liquor by the bottle or to ship it across state lines.

The rise and fall of the Jack Daniel’s committee: How D.C.’s police lodge made thousands selling whiskey online

Puente, the investigator for the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, found that the lodge had violated D.C. laws governing the sale of liquor, the importation of hard liquor into the District and the transportation of liquor in bulk.

Puente said he had questioned the current president of the lodge, former D.C. police officer Gerald Neill Jr., who did not dispute his findings. Neill said that the lodge “should have done more to investigate” what was allowed under D.C. law, according to the report.

In response to the report, the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decided Wednesday to hold a hearing to consider potential penalties against the lodge, according to minutes of the meeting. The minutes did not specify which potential penalties might be considered. Under D.C. law, the lodge could lose its liquor license as a result of the findings.

The hearing may not happen for two months or more, a spokesman for the alcohol board said. Neill did not respond to a message from The Post on Friday.

In the past, Neill has said that the liquor sales were permitted by past lodge presidents and that he shut the sales down after taking office in 2020. The lodge includes the labor unions for many D.C.-area police departments, but the lodge itself does not handle union contracts or bargaining. Instead, it offers broader services like legal-defense plans and runs a clubhouse in downtown Washington.

The lodge’s Jack Daniel’s committee was born in 2017, at a time of financial distress at the club. It was led by a lodge officer named Michael Kruggel, who had an unusual background: The lodge is intended for D.C.-area police officers, but Kruggel had never been one. Instead, he was a long-retired police officer who lived in Tennessee and worked as a security guard at a Nashville Walmart.

Under Kruggel’s leadership, the D.C. lodge began buying whiskey in bulk, engraving the bottles with pro-police slogans, and selling them at police conventions and over the Internet.

The lodge had a D.C. liquor license, but it allowed the lodge only to sell liquor by the drink at its clubhouse. At the start of the operation, one member of the lodge raised questions — “Is this, like, legal?” she asked at a meeting. But lodge officers at the time were undeterred, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by The Post.

The operation raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, but nearly all of it was eaten up by the Jack Daniel’s committee’s own expenses, according to an internal lodge report obtained by The Post. One huge expense was Kruggel’s travel: He asked to be reimbursed for 72,706 miles of driving in two years, enough to circle the Earth 2.9 times, according to lodge records.

Michael Bruckheim, an attorney representing Kruggel, said his client believed that the lodge’s travel records were inaccurate. “Mr. Kruggel categorically denies all allegations of wrongdoing with respect to his participation with this committee,” Bruckheim told The Post last month. Bruckheim did not respond to an inquiry from The Post on Friday.

The operation’s shutdown in 2020 left the lodge stacked with cases of unsold whiskey. In his report, Puente said that the lodge wanted to sell the whiskey back to wholesalers, but they wouldn’t take it because the bottles had been engraved.

Puente’s report said that the D.C. alcohol regulators shared information with regulators in Tennessee, where Kruggel lives and where he allegedly sold whiskey at police conventions.

A spokesman for Tennessee’s alcohol authority said it opened an investigation and closed it without finding wrongdoing.

Peter Hermann and Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.