By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Six of seven package stores and restaurants caught selling beer to a minor in a police sting last month got off with warnings and lectures at last night’s License Commission meeting.
A seventh business — Town’s Variety and Liquor at 277 Groveland Street — must also hire a private company to train employees how to make sure they don’t sell liquor to a minor again. The store was caught selling to a minor in the initial police sting March 3 and then again on March 12.
The manager of the store, Harshard Patel, said he is a new license holder and that he has recently taken steps to make sure his workers check identification before selling alcohol to anyone.
“We will be checking all IDs from now on,” Patel said. “I put up signs everywhere in my store that we check IDs, and I told all my employees not to sell to anyone without identification. I promise you it won’t happen again.”
The other businesses — four more package stores and two restaurants — were first-time offenders, Police Captain Alan Ratte said.
Ratte, who oversaw the compliance checks, said officers sent 19- and 20-year-old males and females into approximately 60 stores and restaurants without identification to attempt to buy a six-pack of beer or a bottle of beer. He told the commission police were not looking for punish the businesses this time, but rather to educate them.
“I’d like to see them learn from their mistakes,” Ratte said. “But I’d like them to understand there will be serious ramifications for future offenses.”
Commissioners agreed, but warned managers of the businesses they will face suspensions or even the revocation of their liquor licenses if they appear before them again for similar violations in the future.
“If you sell to one underage person in a sting, then it’s my opinion you are selling to minors all the time,” Commission member Gerald Sewell told Harshard Patel. “I’ll recommend revocation of your license if I see you here again.”
The commission voted to give Patel until July to complete a course in following rules for selling alcohol. Commissioners said the courses are typically taught by former police officers and can cost several thousand dollars.
“You failed a test twice in a week,” Commission Chairman Joseph Edwards told Patel. “If you had sold alcohol to minor who went out and crashed their car, you’d have blood on your hands and so would we.”
The other stores given warnings were: 7-Eleven, 508 River St.; Quality Brand Liquors, 185 S. Elm St.; American Grocery, 426-428 Main St.; and Bradford Convenience & Liquors, 91 S. Main St. The restaurants were The Grill Next Door, 653 Broadway and Asian Garden, 1186 Main St.
Husam Moussa said he installed a swipe machine in his 7-Eleven to check driver’s licenses, but that the worker who sold to the minor in the sting didn’t use the machine.
“I have new rules to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Moussa told the commission.
Susan Garland is manager of The Grill Next Door. She said the bartender who served the minor was having personal problems at the time. She also noted it was her restaurant’s first violation in five years.
“Her aunt just passed away,” Garland said of the worker. “She should not have come to work that night and she feels terrible about what happened.”
While the most recent violation was technically the first offense for Quality Brand Liquor’s, the commission put the store on probation in September 2013 for allegedly selling wine and vodka to an intoxicated woman. The commission delayed action on the punishment for six months, however, and eventually rescinded the suspension as a courtesy because the store had no history of license violations.
Edwards told owner Quality Brand Liquors manager Yatin Patel that he was lucky the store’s probationary period ended prior to the sting. He also told Patel that he was pleased to see a lawyer with him at last night’s meeting.
“That shows me you’re taking this seriously,” Edwards told Patel.
An employee of Li’s Asian Garden attended the meeting with manager Wu Li to translate. The worker said an inexperienced sushi chef served a beer to a minor without checking for ID while a supervisor was in the restroom.
“We know this is very serious,” the employee told the commission. “We are so sorry and will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Joseph Raphael, owner and manager of Bradford Liquors, told the commission he fired the female employee who sold beer to the minor in the police sting.
While it was Raphael’s first official offense, police investigated the store in November 2012 for allegedly selling two six-packs of Twisted Tea alcohol drinks to a teenage girl, who was later arrested for underage drinking. The commission held a hearing on the allegations, but ultimately did not take action against the store.