SNOW HILL — A pair of similar cases received identical sanctions from the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) this week.
Both involved the selling of alcohol to undercover Ocean City Police Department cadets on Jan. 7 and both resulted in a large fine.
The first case discussed was an incident which occurred at the 85th Street Sunoco. John Wilson, the clerk working that night, made a sale of alcohol to an undercover cadet, despite checking her license.
“I was wrong,” he said, referring to the fact that he confused the date on the license.
Wilson did have a license scanner available to him that would have warned him not to complete the sale. However, Wilson called the device “unreliable” and stated that he rarely, if ever, bothered to use it. “I could never get it to work,” he said.
Wilson was immediately terminated by store owner Ed Ellis after police reported the transaction as per the company’s zero tolerance policy.
Attorney Mark Cropper, representing Ellis, argued that the zero tolerance policy, along with all of the equipment, training, and tools the Sunoco provided its clerks with to help prevent the sale of alcohol to underage individuals, justified letting Ellis off without a sanction.
“He [Ellis] exhausted any and all efforts [to prevent illegal sales],” Cropper said.
Besides the license scanner that Wilson could have used, the Sunoco was equipped with cash registers that alert whenever an age dependent sale goes through. Additionally, Wilson and all other employees are required to have extensive certification and training. An incentive or punishment policy was also in place, granting clerks a $500 cash bonus if they passed an undercover OCPD cadet purchase attempt or immediate termination if they failed.
“I’ve spent $5,000 on employee rewards,” Ellis informed the BLC.
Ellis argued that it wasn’t fair to punish liquor license holders when their employees erred, as long as those licensees had taken every reasonable precaution to prevent the sale of alcohol to persons underage.
“Sometimes, I feel like I’m in a car driving 100 mph, and someone else is driving, but I still get the ticket,” Ellis said.
The board admitted that the Sunoco did have multiple checks and balances in place, but that the system was still not perfect.
“It’s obvious you’re trying to do everything you can,” said BLC President William Esham.
But Esham went on to say that Wilson claimed to have mentioned the ID scanner’s unreliability to his supervisor prior to the incident, and yet no steps were taken to address the complaint. There was also the fact that the Sunoco had three prior violations on record.
The BLC decided to levy a $1,000 fine against Ellis.
The next case involved the 7-Eleven on 139th St in Ocean City. Much like with the Sunoco, this was again an illegal alcohol sale to an underage female OCPD cadet. However, while Wilson maintained that he had just jumbled the date on the ID, Alok Adhikari, the clerk in question from the 7-Eleven, admitted that he had been distracted by the looks of the cadet.
“I was looking at the girl, she was very attractive,” he said.
Adhikari maintained that he did not willfully ignore that the girl was under 21, only that his attention had been elsewhere when checking the ID.
“I’ve never made a mistake like this before,” he asserted.
The slipup was compounded by the fact that the cadet had given Adhikari a vertical driver’s license, which almost always means the individual is under 21.
This was the first major mark against Adhikari in over a decade of service at the 7-11. In fact, Adhikari had a reputation as one of the best clerks in regards to collection fake ID’s and never selling to those underage.
Again, like the Sunoco, the 7-Eleven offered a cash reward, this time of $100, to clerks who passed undercover cadet purchase attempts. Another prevention method was the fact that clerks had to manually enter an individual’s birthday into the cash register before making an age dependent sale. However, at the time, there was a button which allowed clerks to bypass the process if they did a visual check and decided the person was well over 21. Adhikari admitted that he often used the button to save time, especially during a busy summer rush. Since the incident, the visual check bypass option has since been removed from cash registers.
While Adhikari was not immediately terminated after the incident, his responsibilities at the store were reduced and he was not allowed to work a register. However, after hearing him admit that the looks of the cadet had distracted him from properly checking the ID, store owner Linda Pohucki fired Adhikari on the spot.
“He betrayed our store and our trust,” she told the board. “Alok will not be working for us anymore.”
Once again, the licensee received a $1,000 fine. Esham said the 7- Eleven had prior violations on record, including a recent one last summer.
Considering that Pohucki had come before the board over the summer, Esham warned that it could have been worse.
“If you’re back in the near future, it’ll have to be worse,” he seaid.