Baltimore targets `college nights'

Underage youths charged with alcohol consumption, ID violations at bars holding events

September 13, 2006|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Armed with intelligence about new "college night" venues in Baltimore, police officers and inspectors with the city liquor board have visited two clubs and charged more than a dozen underage youths with illegal alcohol consumption and identification violations, liquor board officials said yesterday.

The underage youths, who were not identified, were observed drinking alcohol late Thursday and early Friday at events aimed at college-age customers at the Latin Palace on Broadway and Uncle Lee's China Room on South Street, said Samiel T. Daniels Jr., acting liquor board executive director.

Police charged seven youths with underage drinking at the Latin Palace and five youths with underage drinking at Uncle Lee's, Daniels said. In addition, two youths at the Latin Palace were charged with using fake identification cards to purchase alcoholic beverages, he said.

Charges against the owners of the clubs were pending, Daniels said.

Latin Palace owner Jose Enrique Ribadeneira said he was upset about the underage drinking and blamed an event promoter for the trouble. Ribadeneira said he agreed to host the college night event as a favor to a local event promoter named Paul Pitcher. The club owner said he had no idea that the liquor board was investigating Pitcher as well as other promoters who set up college nights.

"The whole thing was a setup," said Ribadeneira, referring to Baltimore City and Baltimore County police and city liquor inspectors who followed buses from pickup points near Towson University in Baltimore County to the Latin Palace.

Ribadeneira said he felt that he had been deceived by Pitcher.

"I had no idea [Pitcher] had issues already," said Ribadeneira.

Pitcher and an associate, Chris Oddo, also organized a college night event at Club One on Saratoga Street in Baltimore on Aug. 31. The party was advertised on the Internet as the "official college night for Towson University" and promised free drinks for women and $2 bottled drinks "all night."

Pitcher declined to comment. Attempts to reach Oddo were unsuccessful. The owner of Uncle Lee's, An Pan Lee, said he was unaware of the citations and worried that he might lose his liquor license.

The liquor board has cracked down on underage drinking in recent months.

This year it fined Power Plant Live for allowing underage youths to possess alcohol at two venues in the entertainment complex. More recently, Iguana Cantina, a club next door to Power Plant Live, was also fined for allowing one patron under 21 years of age to possess an alcoholic beverage.

Workers at both venues argued that they did everything in their power to prevent underage drinking, but youths still managed to get drinks, either by presenting fake identification cards or getting older friends to buy them beers and mixed drinks.

The liquor board is considering changing city liquor rules to prohibit anyone younger than 21 from entering city bars. Other groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, are talking about having legislation introduced that would effectively put an end to college nights.

"Something needs to be done," said Nancy Kelly, a volunteer with MADD's regional office. "And these recent citations just reinforce that."

Daniels said that when liquor board officials found out about the Aug. 31 college night at Club One, they made plans to show up at the bar last week. But apparently word got out, and the event venue was changed to the Latin Palace. Daniels said police followed six school buses loaded with college students to the Broadway nightclub.

Later that night, inspectors and police visited Uncle Lee's, where a University of Maryland, Baltimore County fraternity was hosting a dance and drinks party called "Inferno."

A member of the Sigma Beta Rho fraternity who posted his cell phone number on a Web site advertising the event did not get back to a reporter yesterday.

A spokesman for UMBC said that campus police found out about the event and notified city police.

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