Alcohol Sales Sting Nets 30% of Retailers

Seven-day investigation in New York targets sales to minors

Alcohol Sales Sting Nets 30% of Retailers

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A seven-day undercover investigation into underage alcohol sales resulted in charges to 76 licensed groceries, convenience stores and liquor stores throughout New York City. The investigation by the State Liquor Authority (SLA), part of a coordinated enforcement action to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors statewide, is the largest underage sting operation ever conducted in the agency’s history.

“Our state is committed to preventing young New Yorkers from buying and abusing alcohol,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “This investigation should put stores that sell alcohol to minors on notice: If you break the law, we will catch you. The state will continue to identify and hold accountable any grocery or liquor stores that endanger underage New Yorkers.”

The investigation was conducted from Oct. 3 through Oct. 11, 2013. The SLA’s Beverage Control Investigators (BCI) sent volunteer minors into 250 licensed groceries and liquor stores in all five boroughs of New York City. During the investigation, BCI personnel entered the grocery and liquor stores separately from the undercover minor to observe and verify when illegal transactions occurred. In total, the undercover minors were able to purchase alcohol at 76 out of the 250 premises visited, including 26 stores in the Bronx, 23 stores in Brooklyn, 19 stores Manhattan, six stores in Queens and two stores on Staten Island.

James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said the 30% failure rate “is way, way too high."

"Occasionally in the store setting, even a trained and conscientious cashier will make a mistake and sell beer to a minor,” he told Crain's New York Business, “but 30% failure indicates there's some stores out there that are being outright reckless or careless in who they're selling alcohol to. And that's unacceptable."

Some aspects of the state's tactic bothered Calvin, such as instructing undercover minors to lie to cashiers about their age. In the past, teens were told to tell the truth or say nothing when asked for their age; now they are being told to lie. "That alters the rules of engagement," Calvin said.

Licensees charged by the SLA with underage sales face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, with fines starting from $2,500 to $3,000 for a first time offense. Repeat offenders also face potential suspension or revocation of their licenses.