SNOW HILL– Beer and wine sales have been suspended at an Ocean City store following underage alcohol sales.
Seaside Deli Beer and Wine received a 60-day suspension and $12,000 in fines at a hearing with the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) Monday. The suspension came after police reported six incidents in the month of June where underage customers purchased alcohol at the store. Four of the incidents occurred on the same evening.
“Clearly there’s a problem,” said Ocean City Police Department Sgt. Doug Smith.
The BLC scheduled Monday’s hearing after being advised of alcohol sales to minors at Seaside Deli on 72nd Street. According to members of the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD), they received complaints that Seaside Deli was selling alcohol to minors. On June 3, they set up a surveillance detail outside the store. Four incidents of sales to minors were witnessed that night and other sales were reported on June 5 and June 24.
OCPD Corporal Chris Snyder told the board he had officers across the street watching the store and when customers that appeared to be under 21 came out with beer they checked license plate numbers to determine whether those shoppers were likely under 21. As a result, several local teenagers were stopped within minutes of leaving the store. Several told police they’d purchased alcohol from Seaside Deli before and that they were not asked for identification.
At Monday’s hearing, seven teenagers recounted their experiences purchasing alcohol at Seaside Deli.
“People just know you can purchase alcohol there without an ID,” one girl said.
An 18-year-old girl told the board she’d been buying alcohol at Seaside Deli since she was 16.
Mark Cropper, the attorney representing Seaside Deli owner Mahmoud Alhamad and clerk Ace Owies, pointed out police had set up surveillance across the street from the store and hadn’t witnessed the actual sales of the alcohol. He also noted that in one case referenced, the buyer had been in possession of a fake ID.
According to Cropper, during the compliance checks routinely conducted by law enforcement, Seaside Deli had not sold to minors in previous years.
“There are roughly 17 incidents were efforts were made to have this licensee sell to a minor and it didn’t happen,” he said.
Cropper acknowledged that there was no good excuse for the incidents recounted during the hearing. Alhamad showed the board a stack, several inches thick, of fake IDs the store’s clerks had confiscated over the years. Owies said he checked identifications but admitted that if he had check an individual’s ID once he didn’t always card them when they returned to the store in the future.
Owies stressed that he loved the community and obeyed the law.
“Mistakes happen,” he said. “I’m human.”
When asked if teenagers were paying him to be able to purchase alcohol, Owies said they were not.
“I would never do that,” he said. “I would never hurt the community.”
Smith told the board the OCPD had initially received complaints about sales to minors at Seaside last year. Those complaints came in again this spring. He said he’d heard from both parents and teenagers that Seaside was known for selling to minors.
“They all say the same thing,” he said. “It was like Groundhog Day.”
Smith said he told some of the teens who’d testified he’d talk to the state’s attorney about possibly not prosecuting their citations for underage possession of alcohol if they cooperated and talked to the BLC.
“I thought this was the best community service when they can come down here and actually see the effects of these sales to minors and what it can do to a business,” he said.
Smith added that he didn’t know why the store had a problem with sales to minors now when it had passed so many compliance checks in the past. When asked if he’d ever seen a situation like this before, Smith said there had been other stores known as hotspots for sales to minors.
“This is the first one that’s been this extensive,” he said.