Eight Queens stores were busted for handing over alcohol to minors in an undercover operation conducted by the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
Shops in Astoria, Long Island City, and Flushing were caught selling to minors as part of the State Liquor Authority’s investigation aimed at combating underage drinking throughout the five boroughs, the governor said. Beginning April 17, officials from the authority’s part-time investigative unit made 74 visits to licensed grocery and liquor stores in all five boroughs – and found that 32 sites sold alcohol to minors, Cuomo reported.
“The law is the law, and we will continue to do whatever it takes to crack down on underage drinking and hold accountable those who serve alcohol to minors,” Cuomo said. “Our message is simple: If you put children at risk by placing alcohol in their hands, you will face the consequences.”
As part of the initiative, undercover minors were able to purchase alcohol at 15 stores in the Bronx, 15 out of 16 shops in Brooklyn, five of 21 sites in Manhattan, eight of 16 places in Queens, and three of six stores on Staten Island. During the investigation, SLA officials entered the grocery and liquor shops separately from the undercover minor to observe and verify when illegal transactions occurred.
The SLA received a $147,000 grant from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, through the Centers for Disease Control, to form a unit to exclusively investigate underage sales by licensees throughout the city. The unit consists of four part-time beverage control investigators, four part-time underage decoys, and a part-time prosecutor. Money from the grant also went to update the agency’s licensing and enforcement manuals to be distributed to businesses throughout the city.
Through September 2014, the SLA will conduct targeted compliance checks by the new unit at more than 1,000 licensed premises. In addition to conducting compliance details, the SLA will compile data to help law enforcement officials identify problem areas and target repeat offenders.
Licensees charged by the SLA with underage sales face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, with fines starting at $2,500 to $3,000 for a first-time offense. Repeat offenders also face potential suspension or revocation of their licenses.
“Preventing the sale of alcohol to minors is a priority for the State Liquor Authority, and these underage sweeps will continue,” SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen said. “Licensees must make a concerted effort to ensure they are not selling to minors.”
By Anna Gustafson