Sting operation bags 7

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2001

When Alaska State Troopers sent two 18-year-olds into nearly two dozen Kenai Peninsula businesses to buy six-packs of beer, seven stores failed the test.

Of the seven that sold beer to the underage youths, six asked to see identification, looked at the teens' licenses and sold it to them anyway.

"All but one looked at the ID card and either miscalculated the date of birth or didn't look closely enough," said investigator Jeff Laughlin with the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Task Force, who participated in the alcohol compliance checks.

The youths participating in the sting, recruited from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, were told to present their real identification when asked for it, and tell their age if asked, Laughlin said.

One clerk looked at the identification for a long time, Laughlin said, and asked the youth what their birth sign was. When the teen responded correctly, the clerk allowed the sale.

The clerk knew the astrology, "They just missed the math terribly," he said, adding that Alaska driver's licenses of those underage have "under 21" written on the side.

Earl Kramer, who owns Uncle Thirsty's as well as several other businesses in the area, said the way the compliance check was conducted set up his employee, Joan Stempniak, to fail.

"There was an officer harassing the clerk while the sale was going on and loitering in the store," Kramer said. "She got confused and made a mistake."

Kramer said Stempniak and the other people who work in his businesses are diligent about preventing minors from buying liquor.

"They all know if they sell anything to anybody underage, their job is done with," he said. "This was just a slip-up. This woman is really conscientious."

Kramer said that if troopers want to test a clerk's compliance, they should just send in a single, underage person and not distract the clerk.

"This is a poor way to do this," he said.

Alcohol and Beverage Control Board senior investigator John Bilyeu said compliance checks are one of the most effective tools the board has to prevent underage people from getting alcohol.

"I think they are the most important element out there as a deterrent," he said.

Bilyeu said the compliance checks are not intended to trick clerks and servers into selling alcohol to youth but rather to remind everyone to take their jobs seriously.

"We want to maintain a level of success," he said. "We are making sure people are taking more time to make sure" the consumer is over 21.

While popular opinion may be that these "sting" operations are a set-up using older-looking youth, Bilyeu said the board and troopers choose people who look their age.

"There is no deception used," he said. "We try and use someone who is obviously underage."

Bilyeu and Laughlin said they wish there were more opportunities and funds to do alcohol compliance checks as well as other programs that keep alcohol out of the hands of minors.

While the occasional compliance checks have an impact, Bilyeu said, a more consistent approach is best.

"The problem with this is that we need to be doing it all the time to have compliance," he said. "These clerks need to know that checking that ID is an important element of protecting their career."

Furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21 is a Class A misdemeanor with a fine of up to $5,000 and up to a year in jail, according to Laughlin. If the person has been convicted of the same offense within the previous five years, the selling alcohol to someone under age 21 becomes a Class C felony subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $50,000.

Laughlin said that the goal is to have every clerk refuse the minors' service.

"We're hopeful that everybody kicks these kids out of the store," he said. "That's what we want."

The troopers conducted the alcohol compliance checks April 20-21, targeting businesses that sell packaged alcohol outside city limits on the peninsula. Stores that passed the checks were: Four Royle Parkers, Nikiski Tesoro, Hunger Hut, Lamplight Bar/Liquor Store, Red Diamond Liquor Barn, Save-U-More, Inlet View Lodge, Anchor River Inn, Connelly House, Fritz Creek General Store, Longmere Lake Grocery & Liquor, Hamilton's Place, WM Likors, Moose Pass Inn and the Pit Bar.

Issued summonses for furnishing alcohol to a person under 21 were:

Lisa Netherton, 37, of Kenai, at Big John's Grocery and Liquor in Sterling on April 20.

Ark Banz, 53, of Sterling, at Bald Eagle Bar and Liquor Store in Sterling on April 20.

Deborah Wegner, 44, of Soldotna, at Kasilof Riverview Liquor in Kasilof on April 20.

Rose Moorefield, 81, of Clam Gulch, at the Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch on April 21.

Barbara Nelson, 43, of Ninilchik, at the Happy Valley Bar and Liquor Store in Ninilchik.

Joan Stempniak, 43, of Homer, at Uncle Thirsty's Liquor Store in Kachemak City on April 21.

Morris Israel, 48, of Sterling, at Bing Brown's Liquor Store in Sterling on April 21.

Carey Restino is a reporter for the Homer News. Clarion reporter Doug Loshbaugh contributed to this story.

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