NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A state investigation revealed dozens of liquor stores in Connecticut have been caught breaking the law and selling to people under 21. The state is now ramping up efforts to stop this.
News 8’s Jayne Chacko and video journalist Matthew Kelly went behind the scenes to find out how the state stops underage drinking. The Liquor Control Division reenacted a sting at the Best Wine Shop in Town in Glastonbury, a store that did pass the compliance check.
The Liquor Control Division under the Department of Consumer Protection will conduct sting operations in towns and cities, usually following a complaint filed with the police department or local government.
Here’s how the sting works: A liquor control agent dressed in plain clothes enters the store first. An underaged, undercover volunteer goes in after them and tries to make a purchase. The agent will witness the volunteer trying to purchase alcohol. If the clerk asks for ID, the volunteer will show their real ID. If the clerk makes the sale, the store fails the check.
The agent will return at the night’s end to let the store owner know they didn’t pass.
“Generally, the package stores are good neighbors, they are in compliance,” said Bryan Cafferelli, the Commissioner of the Department of Consumers. “We find that most do pass the compliance checks when they’re done, but those that don’t, we want to make sure they understand the severity of selling to minors.”
There are 16 agents in the Liquor Control Division. While eight agents are exclusively assigned to enforcement, any agent may be tapped to assist with a compliance check.
The compliance checks paused during the pandemic. They picked up again in November 2021. According to available data from the Liquor Control Division, 51 out of 145 stores that were checked sold to minors.
Some notable sting operations:
Montville in September 2021: 16 checked/ 7 sales
Haddam/Killingworth in March 2022: 9 checked/ 6 sales
Glastonbury in March 2023: 12 checked/ 7 sales
“If we go out and check 10 businesses, a good day is when all ten pass a compliance check,” Cafferelli said.
The visits are unannounced. Stores that fail the check will ask for ID and still make the sale or not ask for ID entirely.
“If they know that we’re coming, then they’re going to check everyone’s ID, but if they don’t know we’re coming, they should be operating as they normally do, and if they’re operating as they normally do, they should be checking ID’s,” said Kaitlyn Krasselt, Department of Consumer Protection Director of Communications.
During a sting in March, seven out of 12 stores in Glastonbury failed compliance checks.
The legal division within the Department of Consumer Protection will handle the case. If it doesn’t settle, there will be a public hearing before the Liquor Control Commission, which has the power to suspend or revoke a store’s permit.
Not only is selling to underaged customers illegal, but it also threatens public safety.
“It allows us as a police agency to be able to gauge the level of compliance people have with just following the law,” said Lt. Kevin Szydlo with the Glastonbury Police Department. “I have seen incidents where underage parties have resulted in traffic crashes where underaged drivers have died.”
“We are out to protect the health and safety of the consumer and those minors, those aged under 21 years, who don’t know the full effects of alcohol. It could be dangerous to their health. They could overconsume,” Cafferelli said.
If a store fails a compliance check, the owner could face suspension or pay a fine. It depends on whether they’ve been caught before.
The liquor bought during the check is taken to a secret storeroom at the Department of Consumer Protection. Alcohol that is spoiled or tampered with is also kept in the storeroom. All of the confiscated liquor becomes the property of the state.
Compliance checks are different for bars and restaurants but follow the same idea where a liquor control agent witnesses a purchase by an underaged volunteer. By passing these checks, stores can keep their license and help keep the community safe.