Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Sam's Wines and Spirits is among the establishments caught for selling alcohol to an underage undercover decoy.

August 30, 2019

Undercover Sting Exposes Local Businesses For Selling Alcohol to Minors

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Three Ithaca businesses were caught selling alcohol to underage customers in an undercover sting operation conducted by the New York State Liquor Authority on Friday, July 27.

SLA enforcement personnel and an undercover decoy visited ten locations in Tompkins and Steuben Counties. According to an SLA press release, the decoy was able to purchase alcohol at seven locations, including Sam’s Wine and Spirits, Ithaca Ale House, and Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons. The Commons Market was the only Ithaca location that refused to sell alcohol to the underage agent.

Crowley said these sting operations typically occur every week, each targeting randomly selected locations in different counties. The undercover decoys posing as customers are usually underage volunteers recruited from local colleges or criminal justice programs.

Aside from routine checks, if the SLA gets a referral from the local police department or credible complaints of underage sales at a certain business, they will send in “a whole detail” consisting of SLA investigators, Department of Motor Vehicles personnel and local police officers, Crowley told The Sun.

In those cases, based on what they find, the SLA’s three-member Board will issue an emergency summary suspension of the business’s license, banning all alcohol sales and consumption on the premises.

“Those are for really egregious cases, when there are whole scores of [underage customers] at a bar,” said William Crowley, SLA spokesperson.

Businesses charged 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,” which means the business has had five years of clean history without being charged for underage sales by the SLA or the local police department. All three Ithaca locations recently implicated had clean recent histories.

According to the SLA delegation of power document provided by Crowley, the exact fine amount is determined by the age of the underage customer: the younger the customer, the higher the fine. Repeat offenders also face possible suspension or revocation of their licenses. In addition, employees or licensees who sell to minors can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

The SLA increases its underage drinking enforcement during certain periods in the year, such as the fall months for the beginning of the school year, and April as it is Alcohol Awareness Month, which also coincides with high school prom and graduation season.

During April 2019, the SLA conducted 851 compliance checks in 46 counties, resulting in charges of underage sales at 186 businesses.