Published in the January 27, 2016 edition


WAKEFIELD — Jeffrey’s Package Store (aka Andy’s Liquors) will have its license suspended for two days next month after a hearing this week before the Board of Selectmen. The hearing was to decide what action to take after police caught the store selling alcohol to two minors on Dec. 31.
After the board voted to enter the public hearing, Chairman Ann Santos turned the proceedings over to Town Counsel Thomas Mullen.
Mullen reviewed the facts of the case, which were not in dispute. He also noted that the same store clerk had been caught selling to minors in Sept. 25 but no disciplinary action was taken at that time. He said that the selectmen must treat the Dec. 31 case as a first offense but could take the previous case into account when deciding what penalty, if any, to impose.
Mullen said that the penalties for a first offense could range from a written warning to a license suspension for two consecutive days.
He then called upon Wakefield Police Officer Kyle Meehan, who saw the youths leaving the store with the alcoholic beverages. Meehan was accompanied by Police Chief Rick Smith.
Meehan said that he had been assigned to walk the downtown area between 12 and 2 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. At about 1 p.m., Meehan said, he observed two males who looked to be under 21 leaving the store. One of them had two 30-packs of Bud Lite beer. The other male had a 30-pack of Busch Lite and a bottle of vodka.
When he approached the pair, Meehan said, they admitted they were under 21 and said that the store clerk had not asked them to show IDs.
Meehan said that he brought the youths back into the store and had them return the liquor and get their money back. He said that he asked the clerk why he had not asked for IDs, and the clerk claimed that he had asked them for IDs previously and recognized them so he had not asked on this occasion.
Meehan said that the youths, who were 19 and 20 years old respectively, told him that the word was out that Jeffrey’s was the store to go to because they did not check IDs. Both youths were from Reading and were home on break from college.
Meehan said that police have summonsed the store clerk to court in Malden for the violation of selling liquor to minors.
Chief Smith said that he hoped that the board would take strong action as he did not want Wakefield to be known as a town where underage people can come to buy liquor. He noted that the police have worked closely with the local substance abuse coalition to discourage underage selling and buying of alcoholic beverages.
“I’m a fan of carding everyone,” Smith said. “You don’t offend anyone by asking for ID.”
Mullen then asked the owner/liquor license-holder of Jeffrey’s Package store, Vasudev Patel, and his attorney, Jonathan Hurley to come before the board.
Hurley said that he had spoken to his client and told him that they need to check IDs and that if they are shown an out-of-state license, they should not sell to that person. He said that he objected to any consideration of the “hearsay” regarding Jeffrey’s being the place to go for underage buyers.
He said that the board should try to determine the clerk’s intent – did he just make a mistake or did he not care? He said that he did not believe that the licensee was just ignoring protocol and policy. He said that he did not think that the case warranted harsh discipline as if his client had recklessly disregarded the rules. He noted that the clerk had been fired after the Dec. 31 episode.
He pointed out that his clients were new licensees in their first year in business and are bound to make mistakes. He asked the board to issue a written warning.
Chairman Ann Santos noted that when the board grants liquor licenses they make it very clear that they have a zero-tolerance policy for violations.
Selectman Patrick Glynn said that the police need to know that the board supports them and store owners need to know that there will be consequences for violations.
Selectman Brian Falvey agreed.
“I find the whole thing disturbing,” he said. “What happens here tonight will spread like wildfire among kids and other establishments in town.”
Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said that he was unpersuaded by Hurley’s presentation. He said that he could not recall an instance in over 25 years of a similar violation in town.
“We want to send a message,” Maio said.
He recommended suspending Jeffrey’s license for two days on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 4 and 5. It was noted that the dates fall right before Super Bowl weekend.
Mullen asked the board to first make a finding as to the facts of the case, which they did.
Glynn said that he did not want to delay discipline and suggested imposing the suspension as soon as next week. But Mullen said that he did not want to set the suspension any earlier than Feb. 4 and 5 in order to give the license holder the opportunity to exercise his right to appeal the the penalty to the state Alcoholic Beverages Commission.
The board voted unanimously to suspend Jeffrey’s Package Store’s liquor license for two days: Feb. 4 and 5.
Selectman Paul DiNocco recused himself from the discussion and vote as he is related to another liquor store licensee in town.