Published in the July 18, 2019 edition.
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — Following a Show Cause hearing before the Select Board Monday night, the owners of Route 28 Lucky Mart, 202 North St., will have their package store/wine and malt beverage license revoked for three days over the Columbus Day weekend for selling alcohol to a minor.
The action stemmed from an incident that occurred on June 1 around 6:30 p.m. when a North Reading police officer conducting routine patrol on Rte. 28 pulled over a motorist for speeding and having a rejected inspection sticker near CVS Plaza, 20 Main St.
According to Police Chief Michael Murphy, who presented the town’s case to the board and summarized the officer’s report, the 19-year-old operator from Reading, who was alone in the vehicle, was stopped by an officer after he was observed traveling at an estimated speed of 50 mph in a 40 mph zone. The clocked speed was later recorded as an actual speed of 50 mph by the officer.
Upon pulling the driver over the officer observed in plain view a 12 pack of Bud Light Lime partially concealed by loose clothing on the floor in the rear of the vehicle. The operator initially told the officer the beer may have belonged to his brother, but since it was ice cold, the operator did admit to the officer that it was his, according to the report.
The operator also stated that he had purchased the alcohol from Lucky Mart without an ID and stated he had bought alcohol there in the past “because they don’t card,” Murphy stated. The officer issued a summons to the operator for being a minor transporting alcohol (misdemeanor), having no inspection sticker (misdemeanor), and speeding (violation). According to Murphy the officer then went to Lucky Mart where he spoke to the only clerk in the store who matched the description given by the 19-year-old and was identified as Marmik Patel.
The clerk admitted that he had sold the 12-pack of Bud Light Lime to the man in question without requesting an ID, however, Patel told the officer that this same individual had purchased alcohol three days in row using a Maine ID which passed the scanning device each time so on the fourth visit the customer was now recognized as “someone to sell to.” The clerk had told the officer that the customer even had a “backstory” about being from Maine visiting family in the area.
At the Show Cause hearing Patel’s attorney James M. Cote explained that the clerk had scanned the Maine license in question during the prior three purchases using a scanning system connected to a nationwide database called “Check ID.” The attorney added that the machine provides no record of the scan nor is there an ability to match up a photo and/or a name to bar code being scanned. Cote believes it was designed this way due to privacy concerns. He said it is a “pass/‘fail” system designed only to determine if one is of age. The attorney pointed out that Lucky Mart has not had a single violation in the past. They have owned the store since 2016.
“The fake IDs have caught up with technology and they are taking the bar codes and passing the bar code test … it is the policy of my client’s store to check every one who is not remotely of age and this is a first-time offense and hope he can find leniency,” he said.
Chief Murphy agreed that it is not a foolproof system, however, he stated that it remains the responsibility of the clerk “to do your due diligence to make sure the person is over 21,” especially when shown out of state IDs.
The store has not had a policy in place requiring more than one ID for customers showing out of state IDs. The attorney said doing so could “hopefully eliminate the out of state issue, but as someone who has teenagers, there is a market out there for fake IDs.” He said they’d be willing to card anyone who appeared younger than 35 and run their ID through the system.
“We all have teenagers and there are really good fake IDs and there is really good technology (but) yours does not pass the test. You have a heightened sense of duty to the rest of us. This was the time you were caught,” said Select Board Chairwoman Kate Manupelli. She noted that kids talk and they know where they will be given a pass, therefore it is “incumbent upon us” to make sure that does not happen.
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto provided background on past violations handed out by the board to other alcohol license holders when alcohol was sold to minors, dating back to the mid 1990s. He explained that “historically” the board would give a three-day suspension for a first offense for sales to underage customers conducted during stings when advance notice would be given that stings would take place.
Select Board member Steve O’Leary said the board’s track record shows “progressive discipline” of three, five and seven days for first and subsequent offenses and “by being consistent the ABCC has upheld the suspensions based on how we handled it.” He added he has attended ABCC appeal hearings.
The board initially considered a three-day suspension over the Labor Day weekend. Cote requested that any suspension be held in abeyance for six months but Murphy thought that was too short a timeframe.
“We don’t give one free pass. This happened four times in this place,” Select Board member Andrew Schultz said.
The first motion for a three-day suspension failed for lack of a second.
O’Leary noted that the Patels “have invested a significant amount of money in making the store better,” and suggested “Columbus Day weekend may work better.” The board members agreed and the suspension was unanimously voted to take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 12, 13 and 14.