By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Bradford Shell is back in the booze business.
At a special meeting yesterday afternoon, the city’s License Commission voted 3 to 0 to return the businesses’ license to sell beer and wine at 154 Main St. in Central Square.
In February, the commission revoked the license after a store clerk was caught in a police sting selling alcohol to a minor for the sixth time since 2002.
But the owner, Aziz Saba, appealed to the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, which rejected the city’s decision.
Instead, state alcohol officials recommended the city change Bradford Shell’s punishment to a 20-day suspension, with 10 days to be served and 10 days to be suspended for three years. The business consists of a gas station and convenience store.
At yesterday’s hearing, City Solicitor William Cox told commission members they cannot permanently revoke a businesses’ license if the action is rejected by the state.
Cox recommended Bradford’s Shell’s punishment be changed from revocation to 221-day suspension — the number of days between when the commission revoked the license in February and when it was returned today. Cox said that length of suspension would set the starting point for future discipline should the business get caught selling to a minor again.
“I understand your frustration and it’s certainly appropriate to voice displeasure to repeat offenders,” Cox told commissioners. “But unfortunately your decisions are subject to review by the state. In this case, it would be futile to stick with revocation and it could open the city to liability if they took us to court.”
If the case went to court, Cox said the city would not only be on the hook for legal fees, but also would face to the possibility of losing a judgement for lost sales and other financial damages to the business.
At their meeting last week, Commission Chairman Joseph Edwards and member Gerald Sewell deadlocked on what action to take. Edwards favored returning the license and Sewell wanted to fight to uphold the revocation.
Yesterday, Sewell backed the return of the license after listening to Cox’s legal advice.
“My job here is to be concerned with the welfare of Haverhill citizens and the law, and not my own personal beliefs,” said Sewell, who at the last meeting said he favors the harshest penalties possible for businesses that sell alcohol to minors. “Now that the law has been made clear to me, I’ll go along returning the license.”
Edwards said he supported returning the license because he didn’t want to subject the city to “undo expense.”
“Please take steps to make this not happen again,” Edwards told Saba, who attended the meeting with his lawyer. “Check all ID’s, no matter whether they look like me or they look like they are 19 ... We don’t want to see you here again.”
The newest commission member, Haverhill businessman Tim Coco, also voted to return the store’s liquor license. Mayor James Fiorentini appointed Coco this week to fill the vacancy created when former commission member Thomas Sullivan resigned after he was elected to fill a vacancy on the City Council.
In the September 2011 sting, a Bradford Shell store clerk sold a six-pack of Bud Light to an underage volunteer working with police.
The establishment was one of 25 licensed businesses — out of the city’s roughly 100 bars, restaurants and package stores — caught selling alcohol to minors in the city-wide sting, but the only business to have its license permanently revoked due its history of similar violations.
Police have said the establishment has a reputation for being an “easy” place for teens to buy alcohol.
In its ruling, the state alcohol board said penalties for “violations occurring solely as the result of a sting should never be draconian.”
“The commission has consistently held that the policy behind a ‘sting’ operation should be the education of the licensee in the risks associated with selling alcoholic beverages without requesting proof of age,” the ABCC ruling says.