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10.2004

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedFeaturedArticles

ABCC from A to Z

Article By: Maia Merrill

Between undercover stings, budget cuts, layoffs, department transfers, and agency overhauls, the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has certainly been busy over the last year.




In June of 2OO3 the agency was moved, after actually being temporarily eliminated in March, from its longtime home of the Office of Consumer & Business Affairs to the State Treasurer's office where it underwent an extensive operations overhaul. As with any major changes at an organization, there was a substantial amount of training, evaluating and general homework to be done. With new leadership at the helm, the agency has been doing a great deal of work, some of it behind the scenes, some of it high profile.

HIT the GROUND RUNNING Not only was the Treasurer's office new to working with the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC), but the 11 investigators, highly trained and very specialized, had all been laid off for three months. This left the Treasurer and his team with a lot of work to do to get up to speed. Once the ABCC was moved to the Treasurer's office, Treasurer Timothy Cahill assembled a transition team to assess the agency and make recommendations. The team, that included Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, Patrick Moscaritolo, of the Greater Boston Conventions & Visitors Bureau, and Alice Moore of the Attorney General's Office, among others, evaluated the agency and made recommendations to the Treasurer and his staff. The recommendations were substantial and included change in leadership, reinstatement of the investigative unit, re-organization of the entire agency, information technology upgrades, and better business practices in licensing and cash transactions - in short, a total overhaul. To begin, Treasurer Cahill re-hired 9 of the 11 Investigators who had been laid off and in September, he appointed Eddie Jenkins, Esq. as the new Chair of the Commission. A Managing Partner at the offices of Eddie Jenkins & Associates, Jenkins was the ideal candidate for the job - being familiar with law enforcement as well as having represented bars and restaurants in the past. His responsibilities as the Chair include setting the general policy for the agency, observing hearings and providing direction to the senior staff regarding overall operation and management.

Additionally, the Investigation and Enforcement Division underwent an extensive six-week re-training period conducted in-house by Chief Investigator Frederick Mahony and externally by the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department. Upon completion of the training program, from November 6 through December 31 of 2OO3, the Investigation and Enforcement Division conducted enforcement operations in over 1OO communities. They investigated and closed 198 complaints filed with the Commission since September 15, 2OO3; investigated and closed 355 Operating Under the Influence (OUI) notices reported to the Commission; completed 2794 license application investigations filed with the Commission; initiated several on-going investigations into gaming and organized crime activity; re-instituted Operation Safe Holidays with unprecedented success: verified more than 5OO IDs, stopped 117 minors in possession of alcoholic beverages, charged 27 adults with procuring alcohol for minors, charged 12 bars with serving an intoxicated patron, placed 3O individuals into protective custody.

They have also seen impressive revenue growth. In FYO3 the ABCC produced a total of $1,636,821 in revenue. As of December 31, 2OO3, that number grew to $2,382,312 through increased fees for new applicants and license renewals. The ABCC also projected collecting over $1 million in back taxes owed by delinquent licensees, in collaboration with the Department of Revenue. (Statistics provided in the ABCC's 2OO3 Annual Report.)

OPERATION SAFETY Keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors and stopping drunk drivers before they get on the road have long been two key priorities for the ABCC - and continue to be so for this administration. Operations that the agency conducts throughout the year are Operation Safe Holidays (consisting of Operation Last Call and Cops in Shops), Safe Campus, Safe Spring, Safe Prom and Safe Summer. All of these procedures take place during periods in the year when statistics show an increase in alcohol-related incidents. The actions entail increased investigator and law enforcement presence on the roads and at bars and retail stores, checking for minors in possession of alcohol, people being over-served, etc. During the period when the ABCC was not in service some of these operations weren't conducted, which was a significant risk to take. Although it's difficult to determine at this time if the lack of operations led to an increase in incidents, it's realistically quite probable. Since being back on track, the agency has aggressively carried out these safety operations with strong results.

CRACKING DOWN on ADULTS The issue of adults purchasing alcohol for minors has been a particular concern and the ABCC, and criminal justice officials have increased their efforts to stop it. Cops in Shops, a part of Operation Safe Holidays, targets specific stores that the Investigation and Enforcement Division has identified as having repeated incidents of adults purchasing alcohol for minors, as well as underage individuals using fake IDs to buy alcohol. ABCC investigators, in cooperation with liquor storeowners, both act as store clerks and conduct surveillance operations in liquor store parking lots to try and catch the pass-off of alcohol after the purchase. Thus far, the operations have gone very well for the agency.

Surprisingly, the adults in question are not necessarily always the 21- or 22-year-olds one might expect to be buying for their underage friends. In many instances, it's the parents who are buying for their children. Many adults don't see the harm in providing alcohol to their children and their friends, usually in the setting of their own home. The argument often made is that they would rather know where their children are and that they aren't driving anywhere rather than have them be out on the roads or trying to get into bars. However, aside of the fact that this is illegal, too many tragic incidents, including alcohol poisoning, drunk driving accidents and fatalities, have occurred as a result of these lenient attitudes over the last few years. Parents and other adults who host parties are now being held responsible through the Social Host Law for what takes place on their property. Chairman Jenkins states, "The Social Host Law was enacted in August 2OOO as an emergency act. Attention may be more focused on this law now since criminal justice officials have recently applied it with more frequency. These officials have recognized it as the powerful tool it was intended to be to stop the problems caused by under-age drinking at parties in private homes." During the 2OO4 prom and graduation season many parents were warned of the ramifications of providing alcohol to minors and that law enforcement would be checking on parties.

OPEN BARS OPEN the DOOR to TROUBLE Another area of concern for the ABCC last year was the potential violation of the state's Happy Hour laws during holiday parties held at bars. During the 2OO3 holiday season the ABCC noticed ads promoting New Year's Eve parties at various bars and clubs offering an open bar with the price of the ticket. In a release issued last December, Chairman Jenkins stated, "We are concerned that many establishments are trying to circumvent our 'Happy Hour' regulations. We continue to see these advertisements in local papers despite our work over the past few weeks. As stipulated in the regulation, an establishment cannot hold an 'open bar' unless it is an approved private function. By advertising these events, the license holder is turning them into public functions." Although investigators gave fair warning to bars and clubs that they would be checking up on them New Year's Eve, many bars went ahead with their plans and found themselves with charges against their establishments. There have been several hearings to date with punishments generally being a suspension of license for between seven to ten days. Whether or not bars will promote similar type events this year remains to be seen, but the ABCC will undoubtedly be on the lookout.

KEEPING UP with the KIDS It's amazing how innovative kids can be when it comes to creating fake IDs to beat the system - and the more advanced that detection systems become, the smarter kids become at evading them. Regarding the issue of fake IDs, Chairman Jenkins comments, "The creation and distribution of false identification continues to be an issue inextricably linked to under-age drinking. The Commission addresses the question by holding licensees accountable. Licensees can help themselves by using the tools within the law to fight back against the tide of under-age drinkers. Licensees can file affidavits with the Registry of Motor Vehicles for them to suspend the driver's license of persons using false motor vehicle licenses as a fake ID. Also, Licensees who request Massachusetts state licenses may be protected by 'affirmative defenses'."

So how do the investigators keep up with the ever-adapting youth? Chairman Jenkins says, "All investigators are given extensive training by the Chief Investigator, Sheriff's offices, and ongoing training with experts from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The majority of the investigative staff have been deputized by the various Sheriff's departments across Massachusetts. They also have access to some of the most sophisticated equipment available for detecting fake IDs. Unfortunately, college students always seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to producing high quality fakes. The registry of motor vehicles is constantly trying to develop a fraud proof identification card, and will continue to improve its production methods to reduce this problem."

But licensees and investigators aren't the only ones who need to worry about checking identification. Bouncers, store clerks, bartenders, waitstaff, and management are all responsible for checking IDs. Staff need to remember that the ones who actually do the serving are the most liable. Programs like TIPS, which train industry workers in verification techniques, have proven time and time again how valuable they are. TIPS also teaches how to handle difficult, tricky, belligerent, and obstinate people who are either trying to get served with false identification of have been shut off and want more to drink.

POINT, CLICK, DRINK The Internet has become a virtual candy-land for minors looking to buy alcohol. Almost anyone with a credit card can go to a website, make an order and get a delivery right to their front door. Shipping from out-of-state direct to the consumer also allows companies to avoid paying taxes and illegally circumvent the 3-tier system for importing and selling alcohol in Massachusetts. Boston recently made national news in June when the Attorney General, ABCC and several minors working undercover conducted a sting against on-line retailers. The minors were able to order substantial quantities of alcohol. whichwere delivered to multiple separate residences, without a single age verification check. Presently, four out-of-state online retailers are being sued by the state for violating Massachusetts' liquor laws. Additionally, three shipping companies are being charged with violating those laws. Delivery people aren't typically trained in ID verification, but, by their companies agreeing to ship alcohol to homes, the responsibility does fall to them. Treasurer Cahill remarks, "This will be an important lesson for the delivery companies whose whole fate is in the hands of the delivery person." Will they want to continue working with online retailers when so much rests on the actions of the person who brings the package to the front door? It's a huge risk to take. The cases will most likely be heard in the autumn of this year, with companies and organizations all over the nation watching the outcome.

The sale of alcohol through the internet has actually been a concern for several years. In an article that appeared in the Spring 2OOO issue of The Bar, titled "Massachusetts ABCC Investigators Still On the Job . . . For Now", author Richard Blau, Esq. addresses the issue of online sales saying, "The recent growth of illicit alcohol sales over the internet demonstrates that Massachusetts and other states are losing millions of dollars in uncollected taxes due to inadequate regulatory investigation and enforcement. In this context, the economics of the situation, as well as public policy considerations, argue in favor of increasing the ABCC's investigative staff." So far that hasn't happened, but his article lends considerable support to the argument.

OUTREACH PROGRAMS Several recent high profile alcohol-related incidents, most specifically the Northeastern Superbowl riots and subsequent death of a student, have prompted the Treasurer and Chairman to initiate more outreach programs targeted directly at youths. They have focused on getting out and working with students, college administrators, retailers, and abuse counselors. Of their goals, Chairman Jenkins says, "This year, the ABCC, in partnership with college and local officials, will conduct educational and alcohol awareness seminars throughout the Commonwealth in an effort to combat underage drinking and alcohol abuse. Our goal is to make the potential underage drinker aware of the possible penalties and hazards they may face." The ABCC also works with organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to inform youth about the dangers and consequences of underage drinking. This year the ABCC participated in MADD's annual Massachusetts Youth Summit. ABCC investigators acted as chaperones for the three-day event and Chairman Jenkins was a featured panelist at one of the seminars, speaking on how the ABCC is working to limit access to minors. They also asked the youths for feedback and were given a list of recommendations from them for preventing underage drinking. Young people have a completely different insight into this issue and their advice is invaluable.

Also this year, the Regional Conference of State Liquor Administrators will be held in Boston November 7 through 1O at the Omni Parker House. The goals of this conference are to educate liquor administrators on best practices, promote better methods of enforcing the liquor control laws across the country and to work with the Federal government in its administration of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act. This year, following the close of the meeting, there will be an economic opportunity seminar where industry leaders will be able to suggest ways to increase diversity within the beverage alcohol industry in Massachusetts. Additionally, in 2OO6, the National Conference will take place in Boston.

USER FRIENDLY ORGANIZATION One of the objectives of this team has been to make the ABCC more of a user friendly, professional agency. The website, www.mass.gov/abcc is filled with information including a downloadable PDF version of the Blue Book as well as FAQ's, liquor laws, hearing information, contacts, and more. Chairman Jenkins comments, "The ABCC of today is a more approachable, user-friendly agency working to grow the beverage alcohol industry within Massachusetts responsibly. We encourage the industry to strive for diversity in order for it to be more reflective of its consumer base, and first and foremost, we work to protect the safety of the citizens of the Commonwealth. This spring we conducted Regional hearings in the cities of Springfield and Lawrence. These hearings allowed us the opportunity to meet with the local boards, police and public officials and offered us a better understanding of the communities we serve." The Commission has also updated the Blue Book - a reference guide to assist local licensing authorities. Soon the Chairman, along with the ABCC's legal counsel, William Kelley, will be conducting training seminars for local boards across the state to bring them up to date on current procedures and changes in the laws.

PILGRIM'S PROGRESS With its 2am closing time, lack of Happy Hour and the many restrictions that accompany it, Massachusetts has long had a reputation for being stringent and rather Puritanical when it comes to alcohol. The belief by many is that Boston is, after all, an international hub and should adapt to the wants of the consumers. But things are changing, and the Treasurer's Office views the state's progress as very positive. Chairman Jenkins says, "Massachusetts is a vibrant, competitive marketplace for all responsible members of the beverage alcohol industry. While some may see Massachusetts as a mature market, there is no denying the large selection of brands and sizes that a Massachusetts consumer enjoys. The truth is that consumer choices in Massachusetts are so wide that you can match the selections available in both brand and sizes against any other state. Moreover, Massachusetts' vendor prices meet or beat the value in any other state's portfolio. In fact, to illustrate how much the beverage alcohol industry within Massachusetts has grown over the years, your publication showcases the revenue the Commonwealth enjoys from the taxes paid by this industry each month. The facts are that both gallonage, imported or manufactured, and dollars collected by the Commonwealth are up. Lastly, the expansion of Sunday sales surely helps destroy the myth that Massachusetts is a puritanical state when it comes to the regulation of alcoholic beverages."

INDISPENSABLE and ACCOMPLISHED ORGANIZATION The alcohol industry in Massachusetts is large, very profitable and quite complicated. A vital part of the regulatory process, the ABCC has narrowly escaped complete elimination several times due to budget cuts over the last few years. It is unfortunate that those making the cuts have little understanding of or appreciation for what this very specialized organization does. Despite the protests and arguments by highly qualified professionals as to why the ABCC should not be eliminated, the logic fails to impress itself. Only this past June/July did Governor Romney once again try to eliminate the funding for the organization. The Legislature overrode the Governor and the ABCC made it through - but it's safe to assume he will try again next year.

The ABCC is far more than just an agency that conducts stings and issues licenses. It has a tremendous responsibility and takes it very seriously. Massachusetts is filled with liquor stores, restaurants and bars and many, many underage students. Boston alone has twenty-six 4-year colleges, and there are more than fifty colleges and universities located within a 5O-square mile area. With only 11 investigators and approximately 22,OOO licenses to oversee, the agency has its work cut out for it. Thus far the industry seems to view the new administration in a positive light. Their team is a highly focused and goal-oriented one that gets results and has been working diligently since it took over last year. If anything, the impression is that there are far more than 11 investigators out there!

STAYING OUT of the ABCC HEARING ROOM

That season is upon us: the time of year when the students re-descend upon the city with a vengeance. While business obviously increases for many, so too do concerns about underage offenders getting alcohol. Any retail licensee can avoid most compliance issues and stay out of the ABCC hearing room by the following 5 easy steps.

1 Check IDs when you serve alcoholic beverages at the point where you actually make the sale or delivery; don't rely on just an ID check at the door. If a patron presents an out of state ID, ask for a second form of identification.

2 Watch your patrons. Make sure they are not intoxicated when you serve them. Make sure they are not handing off drinks to underage persons.

3 Don't allow any gambling that is not licensed by the State Lottery Commission. No unlicensed pools, drawings, raffles, or other gambling activities.

4 Don't make any changes in your ownership or operations without written approval in advance from both the local board and the ABCC.

5 Buy all your inventory of alcoholic beverages only from licensed wholesalers or the other four authorized sources of supply to a retailer.

 

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