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Collin Smith

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Deliberated and deferred

Council hands out probations, deferred suspensions after alcohol sting







— The Craig City Council handed down eight probations and three deferred license suspensions at liquor license hearings Tuesday.

In all, the Craig Police Department cited 10 out of 22 liquor license holders in Craig for selling alcohol to minors after a joint operation between police and Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, an organization intended to curb underage drinking and drug use, on Jan. 11.

The Council deliberated about those violations Tuesday night, plus one additional violation that occurred in December 2007 during a police response at Mather’s Lounge.

Violating business representatives apologized for the mistakes of their employees and listed the steps their establishments took to rectify any gaps in procedure, which included more employee training, new training and terminating employees involved in selling to minors.

“On behalf of Safeway, we’re embarrassed to be here,” attorney Steve Lee said.

“We make no excuses,” Wal-Mart store manager Lou Groff said.

“I felt like I got kicked really hard when I found out,” said Delbert Knez, OP Bar and Grill owner.

Each of those businesses already had computer systems in place to screen for underage drinkers as well as employees checking driver’s licenses. The license used in the sting, which passed all checks, was for a minor.

New businesses failed the police compliance checks along with established ones. The list of offenders included Loaf & Jug, Safeway, Vallartes Restaurant, Fiesta Jalisco, Galaxy Restaurant, Thunder Rolls Bowling Center and both Victory Way Kum & Go stores.

Loaf & Jug and Vallartes representatives did not appear at the hearings.

First-time offenders were issued a written warning that their liquor license would be in jeopardy of suspension or revocation if another violation occurs within six months.

Second-time offenders were given six-month deferred suspensions. If they commit another violation within six months, their license will be immediately suspended for 10 days.

The Council chose not to mandate Training for Intervention Procedures classes because there was a dispute about whether it adequately trained for identifying fake or underage driver’s licenses.

The penalties were consistent with penalties for first- and second-time offenders in the past, Councilor Terry Carwile said.

All businesses were treated as first offenders except both Kum & Go stores, Loaf & Jug and Vallartes Restaurant.

Both Kum & Go stores were cited in 2005 compliance checks, along with the Yampa Avenue Kum & Go, which was closed during the latest compliance check.

The failure of Loaf & Jug and Vallartes representatives to appear before the Council caused their businesses to receive stiffer penalties.

To make sure those businesses understand the seriousness of this matter, stiffer penalties are in order, Councilor Bill Johnston said.

The Council plans to look at other ways to handle liquor license violators at its next meeting March 11.

One possible step would be to establish an administrative commission, a process the city of Steamboat Springs passed but has yet to implement, Craig City Attorney Kenny Wohl said.

That would allow for a consistent level of enforcement, Carwile said. Different councils feel differently regarding the issue, but enforcement should be the same.

Johnston noted several times during the proceedings that he wrestled with how the city would punish business owners when it’s their employees who commit the crime of selling to minors.

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers, who owns Mathers Lounge, told the Council he doesn’t know what he can do to keep employees from selling to minors.

“They don’t care about your business; they care about their paychecks,” he said. “I’ve been in that (business) for 37 years. We get employees, you teach them what to do. Sometimes they just don’t listen.”

Matthew Barrett, a deputy district attorney in the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Craig office, said his office wants to step up penalties for offending employees caught selling to minors.

Each one caught in the January operation was given 30 hours community service, forced to make a $200 contribution to Crime Stoppers, required to take Training for Intervention Procedures classes and given 18 months deferred judgment, in which offenders plead guilty but are not convicted unless they commit another crime within the time frame.

The District Attorney’s Office increased hours of community service, the fine and months of deferred judgment, Barrett said.

“From our point of view, that of the District Attorney’s Office,” Barrett said, “the status quo wasn’t sufficing.”

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com