SNOW HILL — After a string of hearings for alcohol sales to undercover police cadets resulted in only reprimands, an Ocean City 7-Eleven owner was agitated this week when he got hit with a heavy fine and suspension.
Three Article 2B (alcohol sale to minor) violations came before the Board of License Commissioners (BLC) Wednesday, including two from separate 7-Eleven convenience stores located in Ocean City.
Of those, Brian Edgar, owner of the 7-Eleven on 26th Street, received the only fine — a $3,000 citation as well as a 90-day suspension of his store’s alcohol license.
“I think it’s outrageous,” Edgar told the BLC after hearing the ruling.
Even more than a fine, the suspension of an alcohol license can cost a business thousands in lost revenue. The BLC added that if the fine is not paid by Feb. 21, the suspension will doubled to 180 days.
Two other hearings came before Edgar’s — the 19th Hole Bar and Grille as well as a 7-Eleven located on 58th Street. Both received a letter of reprimand in lieu of a fine or suspension. But in each case the board found extenuating circumstances not present with Edgar’s violation.
At the 19th Hole, the sale to a minor was the first violation against the current license holders. However, the license was only just granted last June. There is also a second, pending sale to minor violation against 19th Hole on the BLC’s next schedule. Because it hasn’t gone through an official hearing yet, the second violation wasn’t supposed to affect the ruling on the first violation, resulting in just a letter of reprimand being issued.
However, BLC Chairman William Esham warned 19th Hole owners Roberta Hennessy and William Cook that the board would take the letter into consideration during its ruling on the second violation this spring.
“You better pull yourselves together or you’ll have a tough time,” said Esham.
The 7-Eleven located on 58th Street and Coastal Highway is owned by Teresa Labruto, who came in for her third violation Wednesday but received the same reprimand as the 19th Hole. The BLC justified this, though, by taking note of the extra measures Labruto has implemented into protecting her store from selling to minors.
Labruto also had an endorsement from Worcester County Sheriff’s Deputy Jennifer Hall regarding her security measures.
“I think that is the best thing I have seen yet,” said Hall.
Hall was referring to safeguards that Labruto has in place, including a new policy where all vertical driver’s licenses are to be refused by a clerk at risk of termination. Labruto directed her employees not to accept vertical licenses in the past even if the date shows that the person is above 21. In Maryland, vertical licenses are issued to minors under 21. There is a brief period, though, in the time between a person’s 21 birthday and when they change their license that a 21-year-old may have a vertical license.
Hoping to eliminate confusion for clerks, Labruto has decided to make it mandatory to reject all vertical licenses no matter the dates. While it may mean a few fresh 21-year-olds can’t buy alcohol at her store, it should also reduce the number of illegal sales to minors by clerks who mix up dates.
In light of Labruto’s efforts and the fact that her store’s three violations are spread out and contrasted by 17 passed police checks, the BLC only issued a letter of reprimand, though Esham noted that Labruto was lucky.
Unlike with Labruto, the board found Edgar’s efforts to protect against sales to minors lacking.
The most current violation against Edgar’s 7-Eleven is the second since June of 2011. At that time, he told the BLC his store would be changing its registers so that a valid ID must be scanned before an alcohol sale can go through. However, according to Edgar, the 7-Eleven corporate office just recently finished upgrading the registers, which was why his store’s January violation got through.
The board seemed skeptical that it took more than six months for the registers to be retrofitted by 7-Eleven. Hall also stated that Edgar’s clerk seemed to lack a necessary understanding of the English language.
“I felt the major issue here was a language issue,” she said.
Hall guessed that if she had “put [her] cadet in a hat and a different shirt, [the clerk] would have sold to him again.”
The BLC voted unanimously to level the fine and suspension on Edgar.
“An alcohol business license is a privilege, not a right,” Esham told Edgar.
After Esham closed the hearing, a visibly agitated Edgar approached the board and accused Liquor License Administrator April Payne of making an error in her report.
Hall immediately stepped in and directed Edgar to leave the room as well as the building.
When Hall returned after escorting Edgar out of the room, she said he raised his voice at her and she reported at one point thinking she may have to arrest him if he did not follow her orders.