Bottles of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and Allen's Coffee Flavored Brandy are pictured for sale on a store shelf in Jan. 2019. State law prohibits the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 years old, and the Aroostook County Sheriff's Office recently conducted compliance checks at  35 businesses throughout central Aroostook. The purpose was to ensure that cashiers were asking the individual for identification prior to the purchase. Out of the 35 businesses, he said, only three establishments failed to ask for identification. Credit: Bill Trotter

HOULTON, Maine — An undercover investigation has once again determined that businesses throughout Aroostook County are mainly in compliance with laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors, according to local law enforcement.

Sheriff Shawn Gillen said on Wednesday that deputies conducted a “sting” operation that targeted local businesses. It is part of an ongoing effort that first began more than a decade ago, he said, after police discovered issues with area businesses selling alcohol to youths.

The latest investigation, he said, showed that much progress has been made.

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Gillen said that deputies partnered with a 19-year-old buyer who was sent into 35 businesses throughout central Aroostook. The purpose was to ensure that cashiers were asking the individual for identification prior to the purchase.

Out of the 35 businesses, he said, only three establishments failed to ask for identification.

“While our goal is to achieve 100 percent compliance with the liquor laws,” Gillen said, “We feel that 32 out of 35 businesses in compliance is a success.”

The current numbers are a much better result than in March 2011, when a similar check revealed that 23 of 43 businesses from Macwahoc to Fort Kent sold alcohol to minors. The sheriff’s office served summonses to all of the businesses that were in violation.

But less than two years later, in November 2012, more than 70 percent of the 40 or so businesses the department checked were in violation.

In 2015, police checked 109 businesses, of which 15 liquor licensees engaged in an illegal sale to a minor. That equaled out to a failure rate of 14 percent.

To combat the problem, public health groups worked with area law enforcement to institute state-certified training to businesses and employees across The County. This helped bring the failure rate down.

Laura Adams, administrative assistant for Caribou Police Department, said that grant money typically pays for the compliance checks, or police departments in the individual towns do their own. Currently, the Caribou Police Department is managing a pool of grant money from Dirigo Safety of Auburn, which the Sheriff’s Office taps into. She said that the money pays for initiatives such as party patrols and compliance checks.

Gillen said Wednesday that the grant money funded the most recent effort.

“Our main goal is to educate the public and work with businesses to achieve the common goal of voluntary compliance,” he said. “The three businesses in violation were issued administrative summonses to contact the state liquor licensing division.”

This story originally appeared on The County.