Four Pitkin County businesses cited in Dec. 2 alcohol-sales sting | AspenTimes.com

Four Pitkin County businesses cited in Dec. 2 alcohol-sales sting

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Four local businesses were cited Dec. 2 for selling alcohol to minors, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue's Liquor Enforcement Division.

The division's records show that the violations occurred at Asie restaurant on Main Street, Aspen Quick Mart off Highway 82 near Aspen Village, Bangkok Happy Bowl on Puppy Smith Street and The Ritz Carlton Destination Club in Aspen Highlands.

Five Pitkin County businesses that passed the Dec. 2 test include four liquor stores — Aspen Wine and Spirits on Puppy Smith Street, Airport Liquor in the Aspen Business Center, Carl's Pharmacy on Main Street and Local Spirits, also on Main Street. El Rincon restaurant, at the corner of East Main and South Mill streets, also was found to be in compliance.

Prior to Dec. 2, undercover agents of the Liquor Enforcement Division had not been in the area since July 30. On that day, 15 businesses in Aspen and Snowmass Village were tested and all of them passed. A 100 percent passing rate also was achieved by 19 businesses in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Woody Creek on June 12.

However, on Jan. 17 — out of 13 businesses tested in Aspen and Snowmass Village — three allegedly were cited for alcohol sales violations by the division. They were: Acquolina restaurant in Aspen, Pyramid Bistro in Aspen and the New Belgium Ranger Station in Snowmass Village.

Darnia Serna, spokeswoman for the state revenue department, could not be reached for comment Wednesday regarding the recent sting operation, or what her office calls "compliance checks." Following several checks in the Aspen area in 2013, Serna said Pitkin County and Aspen were not being singled out.

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For example, she said, Pitkin County's 96 compliance checks in 2013 paled in comparison to Eagle County's 221 checks and Garfield County's 170 checks that same year. Pitkin is more on par with Routt County, where there were 97 checks in 2013.

State revenue department records show that in 2012, agents made 22 stops in Pitkin County on three separate dates, with seven citations issued, for a 32 percent failing rate. The first Pitkin County check in 2012 didn't happen until September; in 2013, they started in February.

The uptick in visits in 2013 raised concerns among local business owners who believed Aspen was unfairly targeted. A few of them spoke with The Aspen Times for a story last year but asked that they not be identified, fearing reprisals from the department in the form of increased undercover visits.

They insisted that their employees try their best to avoid selling alcohol to minors. But they also said they believe that the state's tactics are a form of entrapment, given that the undercover agents typically look much older than their actual age, which usually is 18 to 20.

They also raised the question of whether the agents themselves were breaking the law in an attempt to nab violators, since it is illegal for a minor to attempt to purchase alcohol.

Representatives of three of the four local businesses that failed the liquor enforcement division's compliance checks on Dec. 2 could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. Citing company policy, the general manager for the Ritz-Carlton in Aspen Highlands deferred all questions to a public-relations official in Florida.

andre@aspentimes.com

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