Liquor stores caught in underage-buying sting |

Liquor stores caught in underage-buying sting

Christine Ina Casillas
Vail Daily/ Melinda KruseTom Mullen, owner of West Vail Liqour Mart, passed the Dec. 4 undercover sting of selling liquor to minors.

Liquor store merchants might be catching some heat lately, say local law enforcement officials.

In the first in a series of countywide “stings” to prevent the sale of alcohol to underage buyers, liquor stores passed the test by 71 percent.

The Dec. 4 sting targeted 48 liquor stores throughout the county, Vail Police Department Commander Joe Russell said.

“It was the first time we were able to do compliance checks on a countywide basis,” Russell said. “We hope to get a higher compliance rate in the future, but overall it was a success.”

Public-safety officials sent individuals under 21-years-old into liquor stores to buy a six-pack of beer, Russell said. They were advised not to present identification and to tell the clerk that they didn’t have it.

“Several stores didn’t ask for any form of identification at all,” Russell said. “We want to increase awareness into the holidays.”

Of the 48 establishments, 34 stores passed the compliance checks while 14 were ticketed for selling to minors. The clerks who sold alcohol to the underage persons were charged for serving to minors, Russell said.

The liquor store owners and managers can be brought before the local liquor boards to explain why their store sold to underage customers, he said.

“There was no trickery involved with the compliance checks,” Russell said. “Nobody was dressed to look older. They just went up and acted like they were purchasing a six-pack of beer.”

West Vail Liquor Mart owner Tom Mullen said he agrees there is a need to reinforce the message that underage drinking is illegal, and he encourages his employees to check and double check for any underage buyers.

The sting was a result of a recent “Rethinking Alcohol and Drugs” study, or RAD, administered by Holly Woods of CARES Group Inc. and local youth researchers.

Youths in Eagle County get alcohol in the following ways:

– From their friends: 23 percent

– Parents: 6 percent

– Bought it illegally: 6 percent

– Older brothers and sisters: 6 percent

– Older males they know: 6 percent

– Unknown, such as strangers: 5 percent

– Stealing: 3 percent

In November, various public-safety agencies sent letters to all county liquor stores advising them of the sting.

The sting is an ongoing project funded by a $35,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation, which is being used to help reduce underage drinking in the valley. The program is being coordinated by the Eagle River Youth Coalition and the Vail Police Department.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

What to look for

Tom Mullen, owner of the West Vail Liquor Mart, passed compliance checks by local law enforcement and encourages his employees to abide by the following rules and tips:

– Always ask for identification

– Be careful of large purchases by groups of people when only one identification is presented

– Do not hesitate to ask for a second form of identification, and deny sale if needed

– If there’s a need, call the Vail Police Department at 479-2200

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