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Stinging all over, without warning

Below is a list of names of people arrested during the past two weeks for allegedly selling alcohol to minors. Some agencies were working in conjunction with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, some acted independently.

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Pct. 1
BALETKA, LELA THERESA
BELCHER, SCOTT MICHAEL
COLLINS, RACHEL V
DAVIS, DESTINEE ANASTASIA
MENDENHALL, SHERRY ANN

CISD
SHAER, MOHAMMED KHALIL
RODRIGUEZ, MONICA
BROWN, REBECCA RUTH
MASON, BRANDY MICHELLE
MAKNOJIA, NAVID NASRUDDIN
ISLAM, MOHAMMAD SHAFIQUL
DOSS, CINDIE JO
ABBASI, ASAD SHARIF

Pct. 4
SUMRALL, CATHY LYNN
PATEL, SAURABH MAHESH
FERNANDES, MARIO JOHN
ECKLES, JAMES EARL
COLLINS, AUTUMN MARIE

MCSO (not TABC sting)
REINHARDT, ROBERT ALAN

DPS (not TABC sting)
RICHTER, MICHELLE HEATHER

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By Jamie Nash
March 28, 2009

Five Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission stings, conducted countywide between March 9 and March 21, caught 23 clerks selling alcohol to minors of 151 attempts to buy, according to TABC Sgt. Scott Zella.

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Only 22 of the clerks were arrested since TABC worked without assistance from local law enforcement on March 9. Because the TABC group involved only five people, they were able to hit more locations by gathering information to be presented to the District Attorney’s office for a warrant, instead of dealing with the lengthy arrest process when they were trying to maximize their time, he said.

Unfortunately, Zella said the number has not really declined despite publicity and penalties, which are costing some establishments dearly.

“They face administrative penalties of 8 to 12 days suspension of their liquor licenses,” Zella said.

The time depends upon the business’ history with the issue and the age of the minor involved. They are usually given a choice between the suspension and paying a fine of $300 per day of the assigned suspension. For example, to avoid a 10 day suspension, a business could pay $3,000 if they felt they would make more money by doing so, Zella said.

“We can suspend their license and not offer the fine,” he said. “We typically don’t do that until they’ve had several suspensions.”

Six of the 23 businesses busted had been caught in stings in the past few months.

“We did one in December and these are all re-stings,” Zella said. “We go back and see if the education we provided works.”

The education is not mandatory, but on the first offense, the business can get reduced penalties by taking the class, he said.

Three violations in a three-year period will result in a hearing to determine of the business’ liquor license is suspended.

The sting on March 16 involved the Pct. 1 Constable’s office, March 19 and 20 TABC worked with the Conroe ISD Police Department; and on March 21, they worked with the Pct. 4 Constable’s Office.

“We like to support local law enforcement anytime we can,” he said.

In reference to a recent fight at an ice house in East Montgomery County where TABC was called after a brawl resulting in two arrests and one Life Flighted with injuries, Zella explained that TABC also becomes involved when people are served too much alcohol, whether it is the aggressor or the victim. They also investigate whether a server might have caused a fight, or saw one begin and done nothing to stop it. In the incident in question, TABC investigators took photos and interviewed people. They are planning a follow-up to make sure no one employed by the bar is at fault, he said.

There is no minimum age to sell alcohol at a convenience or grocery store. However, where liquor is consumed on the premises, the server must be 18 and those working in liquor stores must be 21. The ages of those arrested varied, with no apparent pattern.

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