Rifle sting nails nine liquor sellers

Heidi RiceGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE – Liquor license holders in Rifle beware.The state Department of Revenue’s Liquor License Enforcement Division has already issued nine citations out of 20 businesses visited in the city for serving underage customers.A “compliance check” – also referred to as a “sting” operation – was conducted in Rifle at the end of July. And another re-check of those establishments found to be in violation is likely to be forthcoming.Matt Cook, senior director of the Division of Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement in Colorado, said the compliance checks are done on a routine basis throughout the state.”We do it on an ongoing basis,” Cook said. “Underage drinking across the country costs about $59 billion per year. In 2003 in Colorado, we had a 39 percent non-compliance rate and it’s now 20 percent. One in every five (liquor license holders) will likely sell to an underage person.”The division has several methods for conducting compliance checks. One is to have an undercover officer pose as a bum and hang outside of an establishment. When a minor attempts to get the “bum” to buy alcohol for them, they are busted.”It’s called the ‘shoulder tap’ program,” Cook said. “Another is the ‘Cops ‘n Shops’ program where the officer goes out and plays a bagger for the alcohol.”When the minor attempts to purchase the liquor, they are arrested.Julie Wernsman, owner of Choice Liquors in south Rifle, was just one of the establishments caught in the sting. She says from now on, she’ll be a lot more careful about carding people for identification.”We had the option to close for two days or pay a fine,” Wernsman said. “We chose to pay the fine and our employee (who sold the alcohol) received a ticket and is going to go to court. This could have happened to any of us. It’s really a wake-up call.”The check was done by having at least one 19-year-old girl go into a liquor store or restaurant to attempt to purchase alcohol.The girl successfully purchased a six-pack of Bud Light from Choice Liquors.”We use a ‘police explorer,’ who is a kid that is interested in law enforcement,” Cook said. “The kids dress age-appropriate when they go in.”Fiesta Guadalajara on Access Road in Rifle was also stung. Only this time, it was an underage male buying the booze”We’re not selling liquor for five days,” said Alex Sanchez, general manager of the restaurant. “It was voluntary.”The restaurant resumed liquor service on Sept. 19.Other businesses cited in the Rifle sting were Jon’s Liquors; Midland Motor Company on East Third Street, Kum & Go at 365 South Seventh St.; Kum & Go at 1248 Railroad Ave.; Red River Quick Mart on Taugenbaugh Boulevard; Sports Corner Saloon on Railroad Avenue downtown; and El Burrito Loco on Railroad Avenue in north Rifle.According to Rifle City Clerk Wanda Nelson, there are currently 27 liquor license holders within the city of Rifle. Nine violations makes up one third of all liquor-serving establishments.Violations cited by the state result in a suspension or fine.”If they’ve had a clean record for two or more years, the penalty is routinely up to a 15 day suspension with five days actual suspension and 10 days deferred for one year,” Cook said. “Or they can pay 20 percent of their gross sales.”Along with repercussions from the state, the city also has the option of imposing its own penalties when a business seeks to renew its liquor license.”Our goal is that we want the retailer to understand what the laws are,” Cook said. “We want to educate them. And we want them to know we are everywhere.”


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