Casa Fiesta Mexican Bar & Grill was among seven Biddeford restaurants and bars cited for allegedly serving alcohol to minors on Dec. 11. Casa Fiesta entered into a consent agreement with the state in connection with 15 similar violations in 2017 and two in July 2018. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — Police in Biddeford said seven businesses in the city have been cited for allegedly selling alcohol to minors on Dec. 11. As well, the seven were warned for allegedly failing to make an attempt to verify their age — Maine law mandates that a licensee must check the identification of people under 27 years old. Both the businesses and the servers were cited.

Banded Brewing Company, Casa Fiesta Mexican Bar & Grill, Happy Dragon Chinese Restaurant, Kobe Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar, Martinis on Main, Mulligans and Thai Me were cited for violating provisions of Maine’s liquor laws as it pertains to minors, said Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre.

“Servers … failed to ask for identification or make any attempt to verify the age of the youthful appearing individuals, including a 20-year-old college student and a 25-year-old recruit police officer,” said Beaupre. “The servers delivered malt liquor beverages to each individual without question.”

Beaupre said the department received a $5,000 state grant to conduct liquor inspections over the course of the year. Typically, underage and undercover personnel attempt to buy an alcoholic drink if the establishment serves liquor on the premises, or buy a bottle of an alcoholic beverage, if it is a retail store.

The legal age to purchase or consume alcohol in Maine is 21.

“We find someone underage from a community college, a 19- or 20-year-old and use that person to go into the (establishment) and we typically have another person — in this case, an (undercover) officer who just graduated from the police academy, and they order a drink,” Beaupre explained.

If they’re served, they text a uniformed officer outside, who cites the server and the restaurant or bar, he said.

All of the officers who conduct liquor compliance checks are trained and certified, Beaupre said.

In all, on Dec. 11, Biddeford police made checks at 20 establishments that are licensed to serve liquor on the premises.

According to figures supplied  by the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, 287 violations were processed statewide in 2019 through Dec. 17, including 11 by county sheriff’s offices, 73 by municipal law enforcement agencies, 122 by the Maine Sheriff’s Association and 81 by the alcohol bureau’s inspectors.

Some on the Dec. 11 Biddeford list have been charged in the past. One, Casa Fiesta, entered into consent degree with the state on May 29, 2018, in connection with a 15-count citation issued following a compliance check on April 22, 2017, in which the restaurant owners agreed to pay fines totaling $9,000. Another consent degree, also between the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Casa Fiesta, dated Aug. 15, 2018, referred to a 2-count complaint of sales of alcohol to minors and failing to ask for identification on July 9, 2018, which  resulted in an agreement to suspend the restaurant’s liquor license for seven days that year.

Liquor licenses are issued by the state, but there is a municipal component, where the city or town recommends a license be granted or denied.

When Casa Fiesta’s license came up for renewal in August 2018, Beaupre advised that the city recommend to the state that the license be denied, citing the earlier infractions.

Liquor license renewals are typically reviewed in-house by municipal staff who make a recommendation, unless an issue is raised, as was the case for Casa Fiesta in 2018, explained Biddeford City Clerk Carmen Morris. That renewal was forwarded to the City Council for their review. The City Council recommended the state renew the license on Sept. 4, 2018, after an agreement was worked out which mandated the business not sell alcohol to anyone under 60 years old without photographic identification, required that 60 percent of staff undergo a certified server training and that the business adhere to all liquor laws.

There were no issues with Casa Fiesta’s August 2019 license renewal.

When asked on Tuesday, Dec. 17 for her thoughts on the Dec. 11 citation for allegedly serving to minors, a Casa Fiesta manager, who would only give her first name, Christina, declined comment.

Some others cited on Dec. 11 have also been previously cited. In 2016, for example, Beaupre listed those cited in a police department newsletter. Among them was Kobe Japanese Grill, Thai Me and Banded Horn Brewery.

Brian, an assistant manager at Kobe Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar, who declined to give his last name, said the restaurant staff has meetings weekly and emphasizes checking identification. He said everyone will be asked for their identification, no matter if they’re 60 or 80 years old. A call to Banded Horn Brewery was not returned by the newspaper’s holiday deadline. The person who answered the telephone at Thai Me had no comment.

Compliance checks by Biddeford Police in November turned up six alleged violators out of 30 retail businesses that were checked. Cited for allegedly selling liquor to a minor without checking their identification were Downtown Market, Lakonia Greek Products, Red Rocket Smoke Shop, Three D’s Variety, Sea Star Market and Walgreens, said Beaupre in a November news release. As well, they received warnings for allegedly failing to ask ages.

Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre, shown here in this 2018 Journal Tribune file photo, said his department is doing its part to try and make sure businesses comply with state liquor laws. Tammy Wells Photo

If a licensee is cited for a violation, the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations online procedures spells out that the alleged violators have an opportunity to resolve the issue through a consent decree. If no agreement can be made, the matter is handled by the Maine District Court.

Recommended fines for violations involving minors are based on age, starting with $450 if the minor is 20; $600, if the minor is 19 years old; $750 for an 18-year-old; $1,200 and a seven day suspension for a 17-year-old and $1,500 and a 14-day suspension for serving a 16-year-old, according to a list provided by the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

Beaupre said there is training available for servers and businesses to assist them in complying with the state’s liquor laws.

“We’re doing our part to make sure people are in compliance,” he said of the business checks.

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