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21 stores cited for selling to minors

POSTED: July 17, 2013 12:31 a.m.
Crystal Ledford/

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Campbell and Maj. Rick Doyle, left, get ready to enter a business that sold alcohol to a minor on Saturday.

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As part of its ongoing crackdown on selling alcohol to minors, the Forsyth Sheriff’s Office conducted a large undercover operation over the weekend.

Three teams that each included an underage buyer, a plain-clothes detective and deputy in uniform fanned out throughout the county. Of the 100 shops and restaurants they visited, 21 were cited for selling to minors.

It was the eighth such operation since January, when Sheriff Duane Piper took office, and officials said the effort will continue on a more frequent basis in hopes of educating business owners and workers about the dangers of underage alcohol sales.

Sheriff’s Maj. Rick Doyle cited Centers for Disease Control statistics that show nearly 5,000 young people die every year as a result of alcohol in some fashion.

For example, a 16-year-old in Cobb County recently died after drinking two bottles of liquor. “So the Cobb police are working on identifying who provided that alcohol,” Doyle said. “We don’t want to see our businesses in that position.”

He went on to note that the price of a citation is definitely less than the potential consequences of underage sales.

“That $600 citation is nothing compared to the price they would have to pay if a kid gets killed as a result of drinking and a receipt is found showing that business sold to them,” he said.

“We want our businesses to succeed, but we don’t want them doing it on the backs of our children and families.”

While the focus of such operations is often on businesses that break the law, Doyle said authorities want to shift the focus onto those who do the right thing.

Eventually, they would like to be able to provide all the businesses that are in compliance with cards and certificates to display, similar to restaurant health inspections.

“This [operation] will be successful to us when we can run at least 25 businesses and have 100 percent compliance,” he said. “To me, that’s not a waste of time.”

Businessmen such as Francis Tran, who owns the Package Place in north Forsyth, feel the same.

Tran, who has never been cited by the sheriff’s office for underage sales, said the profit that may come from selling to those under 21 just isn’t worth it.

“I don’t want to do something illegal for that $1 [profit],” he said. “I don’t want it.”

The operations are also important to the underage operatives the department uses. Doyle said many of them are enrolled in criminal justice programs at area colleges, while others are high school students who just want to make a difference.

“My best friend’s cousin died from drinking at age 17,” said one of the participants on Saturday.

The buyers remain anonymous since they often take part in repeat operations and their safety is a top priority for the sheriff’s office.

“It’s important for businesses to be aware because kids can really get hurt,” the student said.

During the operation, the underage buyers and plain-clothes deputy go into the businesses together and the buyer attempts to make a purchase.

They all use their own driver’s licenses, so “there’s absolutely no trickery,” Doyle said.

“The IDs clearly state [that the buyers] are underage. In the state of Georgia, the underage IDs are vertical while the others are horizontal, so it’s blatantly obvious,” he said. “We never use fake IDs or try to represent them as 21 or over.”

If a purchase is made, the buyers and plain-clothes deputy leave the store. A short time later, a deputy in uniform arrives to cite the seller and retrieve the marked bills that had been used in the transaction.

Each case goes to Magistrate Court rather than criminal court so as not to create a criminal record for the seller, who often is a young adult or teen themselves.

“We don’t want them to have a criminal record since that would impend their ability to get into college, those types of things,” Doyle said.

If the seller is found guilty, the business owner then has to go before the Forsyth County commission.

“They decide if the [business’ alcohol] license is suspended, revoked or if they just get a warning,” Doyle said.

He said those cited are frequently apologetic. One business owner Saturday kept saying that he had “just made a mistake.” It was his first offense.

“I feel kind of sorry for people like that,” Doyle said. “But at the same time, they’re permitted and they take on that responsibility. You don’t need that $2 profit on a six-pack from a 16-year-old.”

 

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