Investigators arrested 39-year-old Christopher Eiras on Wednesday at his warehouse on West 16th Street. He’s facing 70 charges and was released from jail Thursday afternoon on $2.25 million bail.
Those who live by the warehouse say they were surprised to see Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco agents swoop in and arrest Eiras, president and CEO of the Liquor Group LLC, a company that, according to its website, distributes 1,600 products in 31 states.
The same corporation makes Happy Brand vodka, gin and rum. The company has at least five offices in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra, Georgia, Illinois and Michigan.
According to Eiras’ arrest warrant, after receiving a tip, agents found Eiras’ company had “55 gallon barrels of alcoholic beverages found concealed behind pallets of cardboard” in a tractor-trailer. They later searched his warehouse, and he gave them access to one room, but they said there were more that he was trying to hide from them.
In the warrant, agents say “the employees advised the suspect (Eiras) instructed them to construct barricades of debris to prevent access” to more rooms with unregistered and untaxed liquor. After more investigating, agents said they found out “Eiras submitted false liquor reports for the months of October 2011, November 2011, January 2012, February 2012 and March 2012 … to avoid paying excise tax.”
“I would say it’s exactly like modern day-bootlegging,” said Dale Carson, a former FBI agent.
Carson, now an attorney, said he’s surprised to see a case like this in Jacksonville. He said if the allegations are true, Eiras is in a lot of trouble with local, state and federal law enforcement.
“Failure to pay these excise taxes, avoiding IRS taxes, those are what led to many, many convictions of the mobsters back in the ’20s and ’30s,” Carson said. “And it’s odd that something like this should come up in this day and age.”
Carson said it’s likely more people, possibly some of Eiras’ employees, may be arrested, accused of taking part in the conspiracy.
Eiras did not answer his cellphone for comment Thursday. No one was available at one of his offices for comment either.