SNOW HILL — The sale of alcohol to minors recently cost several Worcester County businesses a combined total of $7,250 in fines. Additionally, one business will have its license suspended for 30 days during the busiest time of the year.
While the fines were distributed between five businesses, the store hit hardest by the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) Wednesday was the Shop Kwik located in the Food Lion Shopping Center in Berlin. The store appeared before the BLC on two separate sale to a minor charges, incidents which occurred this spring a little more than 30 days apart.
The first violation involved a new cashier and a can of Four Loko. A Worcester County Sheriff’s Office attempted to purchase a can of the popular and colorful alcoholic beverage Four Loko. The cashier, Shailesh Patel, was eight hours into his first day working at the store and had lived in the United States less than a year. Attorney Paul Ewell asserted that those were the reasons Shailesh Patel made the sale without first checking the 18 year-old cadet’s driver’s license.
“This young man was confused when he saw it [the Four Loko],” said Ewell. “He didn’t realize what he was doing.”
According to Ewell, the Four Loko can looks deceptively like most non-alcoholic energy drinks. While the can has several markings displaying that it is indeed an alcoholic beverage, Ewell said that Shailesh Patel’s relative newness to America made it easy for him to miss the signs. To further illustrate his point, Ewell entered a can of Four Loko into evidence, though Sheriff’s Deputy Jennifer Hall, who wrote the original incident report, informed the BLC that Ewell had brought the wrong color can. However, he stood by his point, asserting that most anyone could get mixed up with the drink.
Ewell also argued that the cadet had “hurried” out of the store when one of Shailesh Patel’s co-workers spotted his mistake and came over to card the cadet. Hall refuted the claim, promising the BLC that her cadet had exited the store at the same regular pace she always did, and that no one on the premises attempted to halt her or card her at any time.
“She did not rush out of the store … she would have stopped [if asked],” said Hall.
The second incident, which took place just over a month later, involved owner Vinod Patel, who sold beer to a different underage cadet. In this case, Ewell asserted that Vinod Patel was distracted by a request for help from one of the gas pumps. Vinod Patel then claims he mixed up the cut-off date for tobacco with that of alcohol.
Since both violations last spring, Vinod Patel has made changes to his operation, according to Ewell. He’s created a database of all alcoholic drinks in his store so a Four Loko mix-up won’t happen again. He also has a new ID scanner which alerts the clerk if the driver’s license scanned is under 21. With what he hoped were mitigating circumstances and with the improvements Vinod Patel has made to his system, Ewell requested that the BLC not hit his client with a license suspension, only a fine.
“A suspension this time of year would create a hardship…it could lead to one or more persons losing their job,” he said.
Despite the case Ewell presented, the BLC still felt a suspension was needed. Much of the justification came from the fact that Vindol Patel had three previous violations on his license over the last 16 years while working at a different location. Though he only claimed two, BLC records showed him connected to the third violation on the day before he moved his license. Between those three violations there were $4,500 worth of fines and 45 days of suspension, total.
With everything considered, the BLC levied a $2,000 fine for the first violation and another $2,000 fine for the second. They also issued a 30-day license suspension effective Thursday at 8 a.m. Ewell requested that the suspension at least by held until after Labor Day to allow his client to take advantage of summer business.
“I have to look you in the eye,” said BLC President William Esham. “We’ve never done that.”
The BLC denied the request to hold the suspension, and warned Vinod Patel to make the necessary changes to his operation, as he now has accumulated five violations in a little over 15 years.
While the Shop Kwik caused the biggest splash during the meeting, four other businesses also were fined with illegal sales to minors. Town Market Basket in Snow Hill escaped in the best shape with only a $250 fine. Both the 7-Eleven on Philadelphia Ave in Ocean City and the Super Soda Center in Snow Hill were fined $1,000 for violations.
Newark Station, much like the Shop Kwik, had to answer for two violations, this time both within the same month. However, the license lacked the history of violations that had contributed to the harsh penalties against Vindol Patel. Newark Station paid $1,000 total in fines, $250 for the first incident and $750 for the second.