Underage police cadets aid in liquor cases

10 city vendors found guilty of selling to youths

September 22, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

The Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore found 10 bars, liquor stores and restaurants in Northeast Baltimore guilty yesterday of selling alcohol to an undercover police cadet below the legal drinking age of 21.

All the establishments were visited in a canvassing of liquor vendors along Belair and Harford roads Aug. 17. The operation occurred 2 1/2 weeks after Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris announced the reinstatement of the cadet program.

Police spokesman Martin Bartness said the return of the cadets does not mean there will be a surge of crackdowns on the sale of alcohol to minors. "We've used young-looking officers in the past," Bartness said. "I don't think enforcement has been stepped up."

Liquor license board officials said use of cadets is a good weapon against illegal sales of alcohol.

For a first offense, the board can levy a fine of $500 or suspend the offender's liquor license for five days, with the offending merchant selecting his or her punishment.

In six cases yesterday, the board suspended all but $200 of the fine or two days' suspension (liquor board suspensions invariably begin on Fridays to maximize the penalty). When found guilty, defendants also must pay a $125 administrative fee.

When it came to repeat offenders, however, there was no leniency. The suspended fine from the earlier offense went into effect, and the latest misstep garnered an additional $500 or five-day punishment. Charges against three other establishments were dismissed. In one case, the defendant was not the holder of the store's liquor license at the time of the infraction. In the other two cases, the police officer and the cadet who made the purchase were not at the hearing.

Brief admonitions from liquor board Chairman Leonard R. Skolnik ranged from the almost-sympathetic - "Be a little more careful" - to the dire: "If you come back before us in the next three years ... you're going to think these fines were a pleasant surprise."

Even dismissed cases met with a parting comment from the bench. "You got lucky this time," Skolnik told one licensee. "Don't go brain-dead again."

The cadet program, in which 18- to 20-year-olds earn money for college by performing administrative work for the Police Department, was discontinued when Norris' predecessor, Thomas C. Frazier, installed the community-service officer program in 1995.

"The fact that we didn't have any police cadets or police under 21 was known by every bar in the city," Skolnik said during a break in the hearings at City Hall.

Without the assistance of cadets, underage-sales sting operations did occur, but they were a trickier proposition. Sometimes inspectors would have to simply sit outside a bar or restaurant, not knowing if an illegal sale would occur on their watch.

Some of the merchants at yesterday's hearing protested the charges; others reacted with sheepish contrition.

George Protopapas, whose Valentino's Restaurant received a sentence of $325 or two days' suspension yesterday in its first appearance before the liquor board, said of the cadet program, "Minors should be punished when they go into a business and try to trap us."

James J. Brown of the Coach House Inn, another first-time offender, received the same punishment meted out to Valentino's.

Saying his sentence was fair, Brown added: "They should be doing this every week."

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