FORT KENT, Maine — Seven of 32 central Aroostook businesses checked over the weekend by the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office failed a compliance inspection on the law preventing the sale of liquor to minors.
According to Aroostook County Sheriff Darrell Crandall, his deputies — working with minors under their supervision — visited restaurants, bars, grocery stores and convenience stores.
On Monday Crandall said five of the restaurants and bars and two of the stores were willing to sell alcohol to the minor.
“If they get out of the store with alcohol, [the minors] jump in the back of our cruisers, hand the alcohol over to us and our deputies fill out a report detailing the incident,” Crandall said. “Within a few days a deputy goes back to that establishment and issues an administrative summons to the business owner.”
At that point he said, it’s up to the Maine Department of Public Safety’s Division of Alcohol and Licensing to determine any penalties for the infractions.
Those penalties can include fines and loss of ability to sell alcohol, Crandall said.
In Aroostook County the sheriff’s office works with Community Voices, a group that secured and administers the grant that funds the compliance inspections.
“What we do is recruit people older than 18 but under 21,” Crandall said. “We make sure they are credible and trustworthy and we explain how the program works.”
On the day of the inspections the young adults are given cash and all of their identification is taken from them.
Once inside a store or restaurant, they attempt to purchase liquor and if the seller asks for their age, date of birth or for their IDs, they must be honest in their replies.
“Hopefully the retailer asks and if the [minors] say they don’t have ID or give their ages, they won’t be able to buy the alcohol,” Crandall said, adding the point is not to trick the retailer, but to check their compliance.
“The point is to make sure they are aware of the rules and are following those rules,” he said. “These failures are particularly concerning given the very young appearance of these minors.”
The entire time the minors are in the business, sheriff’s deputies are parked nearby keeping an eye on them, Crandall said.
Crandall would not release the names of the businesses checked over the weekend and did say County establishments can expect future such compliance checks throughout the year.
Crandall said the surprise inspections are having a positive impact on the selling of alcohol to minors.
In 2012, for example, 70 percent of the 40 businesses checked failed to comply with the law.
Those numbers, Crandall said, are going down.
“This program is working,” he said. “Businesses should expect to be tested as we move forward with the program.”