A weekend sting operation targeting alcohol sales to those underage ended up with several Mesa businesses getting stung.
The program, Operation STUPID (Selling To Underage Persons Is Destructive), was coordinated by the Mesa Police Department and carried out with the help of 10 Police Explorers. The Explorer program teaches teens about law enforcement.
Out of 133 Mesa businesses checked, 18 were cited for failing to check the teenagers’ IDs, allowing them to walk out of the store with alcohol they illegally purchased.
Businesses that passed the compliance check were mailed a letter of thanks. Each that failed received a ticket that could cost as much as $1,500.
"I think for the most part, the clerks are not angry," said officer Mark Reyes of the Mesa Police Department. "They’re upset with themselves for making a poor decision in not asking for identification. I think they were looking at the situation innocently and thinking that these folks look at least 21 years old or older. However, they still have to card."
Businesses are required to check ID, as long as the customer buying alcohol is younger than 30.
Not everyone is happy with the way the sting operation went down.
Jeff Williams manages Fast Tracks Gas N Go at 804 N. Country Club Drive. Williams said he appreciates a program that aims at cutting down on alcohol sales to minors, but said his business was unfairly targeted. Saturday night, one of his clerks turned away one of the teenagers sent to buy beer, he said. The teenager ended up convincing a 25-year-old man outside to buy the beer for him. Williams said the clerk checked the man’s ID and sold the beer in good faith. He said that’s when police told the clerk he illegally sold to a minor.
"If the program is done in a simplified way where minors go in and purchase alcohol, then that place should be cited, no ifs, ands or buts," Williams said. "My employee already told the kid to leave, and the purchase took place outside anyway. We can’t monitor everything that goes on outside."
Reyes disputed that story, saying once the teenager was refused by the clerk at Fast Tracks, he turned to the 25-year-old man, who was at the counter next to him. Reyes said the man agreed to buy the beer, and that’s when the man and the clerk were cited by police.
Laura Jevnikar is the Tribune’s on-air reporter for ABC 15 News.