LAWRENCE — Agents working for the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission raided the Claddagh Pub about 11 p.m. Thursday night and found 43 underage drinkers with either fake IDs, alcohol in their hands, or both, according to a statement from the agency.
Investigators said the bar was crowded when they arrived. As they began asking the younger looking patrons for IDs, the bar began to empty, they said.
They seized 43 fake IDs from the patrons, whose average age was 19, according to the statement. The bar will be summoned for a hearing before the commission.
If found to have violated the law, the bar’s liquor license could be subject to suspension, modification or revocation.
The effort was part of the ABCC’s Operation Safe Campus program, which includes liquor law enforcement at college area bars and liquor stores to prevent underage drinking.
“Bars and restaurants have an obligation to responsibly serve their patrons,” said State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who oversees the ABCC, “We will continue to step up our monitoring and enforcement actions because we know that this can save lives and prevent tragedies before they happen.”
The local police were not involved in the operation, according to Lawrence police spokesman Tom Cuddy.
"We've never had any issues with the Claddagh," he said. "We had nothing to do with the operation."
The local Licensing Board was likewise not involved.
"We are in communications with the ABCC and will have an official statement early next week," Lesly Melendez, chairwoman of the local board, said Friday.
Claddagh owner Brian Farrell could not be reached for comment.
It is the second time in the last 10 years that the Claddagh has faced discipline by the state.
The first time was in December 2018 when investigators found a 20-year-old man drinking a vodka and Red Bull, according to documents provided by the ABCC.
At a hearing in February 2019, the bar received a one-day license suspension which was held in abeyance for two years, as long as there were no other infractions.
It is unclear what it means now that there has been another alleged infraction within that two-year window.
ABCC Chief Investigator Frederick Mahony said Operation Safe Campus has been going on for about 10 years, most often with raids taking place in or around Boston.
Occasionally, he said, investigators go outside of the city, to places like Lawrence, Lowell and Springfield, where colleges are nearby.
"We look at smaller communities where there are colleges," he said. "We look at bars that are problematic."
He refused to comment on whether the Claddagh is "problematic."
The closest residential college to the Claddagh is Merrimack College.
It is unclear who the underage drinkers were since neither Mahony nor Ralph Sacramone, the executive director of the ABCC, would reveal many details of the case.
"We did seize the IDs," Mahony said, noting that "there could be" penalties sought against the underage drinkers.
However, he said, "our focus is on who is distributing the alcohol. It's our job to hold them accountable. It's their job to check IDs."
He said it has gotten more and more difficult to tell fake IDs from real IDs, but that doesn't excuse bars and restaurants from doing their jobs, he said.
"You have a responsibility to public safety," he said. "If someone walks into a bar, and they have a fake ID but look 15, they probably are 15. Bar owners can't use the ID check as a shield."
He said the ABCC does checks nearly every weekend in bars across the state.
"We can go into a bar and find nothing," he said. "That happens quite a bit."
Finding 43 underage drinkers at the Claddagh, however, "was higher than normal," he said.
"Our primary objective is to ensure their (underage drinkers) safety," he said. "Whenever we read about kids getting into trouble with booze, whenever you have kids involved in alcohol, it's a recipe for a tragic situation."
ABCC Enforcement actions in 2019
The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission Enforcement Division conducted operations in 200 municipalities throughout the state last year, filing 190 reports detailing approximately 320 violations of the Liquor Control Act.
Violations included: sale of alcohol to underage or intoxicated individuals, illegal gambling, illegal alcoholic beverages, unlawful ownership and unlawful trade practices.
Seasonal enforcement programs found: 1,200 minors in possession or transporting alcoholic beverages; 125 adults procuring alcohol for minors; 230 individuals in possession of false identification.
Agents confiscated 350 cases of beer and 230 bottles of alcohol, preventing delivery to approximately 3,600 underage individuals.
Source: Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission