Some alcohol sellers fail checks

13 criminal charges against 7 employees after undercover visits

Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Robert Rodman said he's had "zero tolerance" for underage customers during the 16 years he has owned Percy's Liquor Store, downtown on Front Street.

A citation last week for furnishing alcohol to a minor was an unfortunate first, he said.

His business wasn't alone in an Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board sweep that made 57 visits to 45 Juneau liquor stores, bars and restaurants licensed to sell alcohol. Three teenagers visited the businesses over four days. Officers found reason to file 13 criminal charges against seven employees after the undercover visits, said ABC head William Roche.

Last year, the Department of Public Safety designated a full-time officer to work exclusively on running compliance checks around the state, allowing broader sweeps than in the past. Last week's 12 percent failure rate in the Juneau operation was higher than the 8 percent recently reported in Anchorage and lower than the 20 percent recently reported in Fairbanks.

The rate of businesses selling to people underage is far less than it was in 1999, Roche said. Then, compliance checks would yield a failure rate of about 50 percent statewide, ranging from about 30 percent in Anchorage to 70 percent in Fairbanks.

"As we've continued these compliance checks, people who work in these places become more aware they can be charged with a crime for selling alcohol to minors," Roche said.

The emphasis on such sweeps used to be package stores, but the state's full-time officer has allowed them to take a more complete look at where underage drinkers get their alcohol.

ABC recruited 16- and 17-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man to enter businesses and try to purchase alcohol. If asked, the agent would display his state-issued identification.

"You can't even be in (Percy's Liquor Store) if you're under 21," Rodman said. He said the employee had recently been trained, and the violation shouldn't have happened.

The other violations occurred at the Baranof Hotel, the Goldbelt Hotel, the Red Dog Saloon, the Glacier Airport Restaurant and the Canton House. One business that had an alcohol charge still pending Monday afternoon wasn't disclosed.

In addition to the individual clerks and servers being cited, businesses will get notices of violations, he said. Repeated violations could result in disciplinary action, Roche said.

Businesses found in violation last week can count on being checked again soon, he said. They shouldn't have to have the threat of compliance checks to make them follow the law, he added.

The teens who work with ABC don't look 21, he said.

There were violations on each of the four days of the checks, the state reported. Agents began checking on a fifth day but found that by then people knew who they were, Roche said.

Matt Felix, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Juneau, said the compliance checks are important. "You can't have statutes to regulate a dangerous product and not have enforcement," he said.

Like Roche, he said he was happy to see compliance is better than it was five or six years ago.

In addition to the state addressing businesses selling to minors, parents need to understand that most of the liquor their kids are drinking is obtained from home and should keep it locked up, Felix said.

"You're risking their lives," he said.

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