License Board Institutes New Policy For Underage Sales

SNOW HILL — Even with a high number of violations logged this spring, fines for Worcester County bars, stores and restaurants that sold alcohol to minors were relatively light at this month’s Board of License Commissioners (BLC) meeting.

The board has also adopted a new policy for infrequent offenders that will discipline them with a letter of reprimand instead of a fine and not require a hearing.

None of the eight violations, all for selling alcohol to minors, the board considered this week met with more than a $500 fine. Most of the cases were standard, though there was some conflict with a violation logged by OC Dollar Store, located at 203 N. Philadelphia Avenue in Ocean City.

The details of the incident varied slightly between the police account of the violation and that of the clerk who made the sale. Additionally, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Sgt. Doug Smith told the board that he has heard troubling rumors about the OC Dollar Store and the circulation of a possible password that underage individuals could give to be sold alcohol from that location.

“This is the second time I’ve heard this. I testified before the board the last time this business was in violation that I’d heard from my own daughters, my own PSA whose boyfriend had gone to this business and used a key-phrase back when it was located on North Division Street and here we are with the same thing again,” Smith said.

This is the only business that Smith can recall hearing rumors of a password about and hearing it from multiple sources made it “too coincidental.” In this case, Smith said that a police cadet was informed by a “homeless bum” that there was a passcode for OC Dollar Store. Police weren’t able to test the theory however, as the alcohol sale was made by the clerk without asking for ID.

Mark Cropper, attorney for OC Dollar Store, asked the BLC to take rumors of any password with a grain of salt. He pointed out that, at least in this case, the source of the rumor was not overly reliable.

“By the officer’s own description it’s a homeless bum in Ocean City. If this board is going to rely on what a homeless bum in Ocean City said to this cadet with regard to an offense that is being considered by this board, I want him in here, I want to cross examine him,” said Cropper. “I’m very concerned that any level of confidence or credibility would be given to the statement of Officer Smith in reliance upon a homeless downtown bum in Ocean City saying they could go buy liquor by giving a passcode to someone at OC Dollar Store.”

When asked, Cropper clarified that he wasn’t accusing all homeless people of being unscrupulous but noted that the OCPD used the word “bum” in a statement, which he believed introduced a fair question toward the individual’s credibility. The BLC passed down a $500 fine to OC Dollar Store.

Also receiving $500 fines were Shenanigan’s Irish Pub and Seafood, located at 4th Street and Boardwalk in Ocean City; Ponzetti’s Pizza, located at 14314 Coastal Highway in Ocean City; Friendship Food Mart, located at 10709 Grays Corner Road in Berlin; and Whisker’s Bar and Grill, located at 11070 Cathell Road in Berlin.

Unlike OC Dollar Store, there was little discussion with any of the other cases. Each of the license holders acknowledged that there had been a failing with their system as these violations were at least the second offense for each business. In several of the cases, a police cadet had been able to bypass multiple restaurants’ wristband policies by claiming that they only wanted food. At that point, servers failed to notice that the cadets did not have wristbands indicating that they had been checked for ID.

BLC Investigator reminded the business representatives in attendance to have their service staff seek out the wristbands of every customer.

For the most part, all of the businesses were relatively cooperative, according to Smith. Of special note was the response the OCPD saw after the 28th Pit and Pub, located 2706 Coastal Highway in Ocean City, received a violation. The owners were apologetic and immediately gathered all of the employees together for a conference. Pit and Pub received a letter of reprimand instead of a fine.

“This is what I would love to see from every business. Gather everybody together and say, ‘Hey guys we’ve made a mistake and we’re going to move on from this mistake,’” Smith said.

Also receiving letters were Greene Turtle, located at 11601 Coastal Highway in Ocean City, and Locals Beer and Wine, located at 9939 Jerry Mack Road in Ocean City. Both Locals and Turtle received their letters of reprimand as part of the BLC’s new policy for first-time or rare offenders.

The policy states if the violating licensee has no prior sales to minors within five years, has been checked by police before and not sold to a cadet and the board’s investigator has reported that efforts have been used by the business to address any flaws than it can simply be written a letter of reprimand.