Six Harford County businesses were each fined $1,000 or more Wednesday after failing so-called compliance tests in which the sold alcoholic beverages to an underage person working with police and liquor inspectors.
Nine out of 37 businesses visited by an 18-year-old Bel Air Police Department cadet failed a Feb. 21 compliance test, and two out of 34 businesses visited by an 18-year-old Harford Community College criminal justice student failed a March 22 test, according to a report provided by Charles Robbins Jr., chief inspector for the Harford County Liquor Control Board.
The licensees for six of the businesses that failed appeared before the liquor board Wednesday. The licensees for the other five appeared before the board May 7.
Each license holder who appeared before the board Wednesday for a show cause hearing was contrite and apologized. Several stressed that their employees either go through regular training about the procedures involved in verifying a customer's age, or they have sent employees and managers through retraining.
"This isn't how we run a business; we apologize," Charles Callaghan, vice president and secretary for Belle Inc., the license holder for a Pizza Hut restaurant in Forest Hill, said.
Callaghan said servers are trained to ask all diners for identification, and any server who asks for identification and does not serve a tester gets $250 cash.
The Pizza Hut was fined $1,000, along with Anchor Liquors of Belcamp, Chopstix Gourmet of Forest Hill, North Harford Liquors of Jarrettsville and Box Hill Pizzeria of Abingdon. A 7-Eleven convenience store in Aberdeen, which had failed a prior compliance test, was fined $2,000.
In several cases, the employees who failed the compliance tests lost their jobs, according to the licensees.
The Pizza Hut server, according to Robbins' report, asked the student for his identification when he came in on March 22, glanced at it "in a very cursory fashion," and then served him a beer.
Meghan Foxwell, assistant secretary for Belle Inc., told board members the server came to her to tell her the student was underage, but she had left the beer on the table.
Robbins said later that placing the drink on the table is considered having served the drink.
Callaghan described the server as "a nice young lady, but we did let her go on the spot, as is our policy."
In the case of North Harford Liquors, the employee who neglected to ask a customer for ID was one of the licensees.
Richard McGarry, president of license holder RJM Liquors Inc., said he had been distracted Feb. 21 while ringing up the cadet at the register by a conversation with a person he had not seen in a long time.
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He stressed the work he and his fellow business operators do in Jarrettsville and their support of community organizations and Jarrettsville Elementary School.
"We're good people," McGarry said. "We just made a mistake."
Liquor Board member Thomas Fidler Jr. cautioned McGarry that he had to be above board as a licensee.
"You are the licensee," Fidler said. "You are the role model."
The five board members unanimously approved the majority of the fines assessed Wednesday, but they disagreed over fines for North Harford Liquors and Box Hill Pizzeria.
Board Chairwoman Sandi Tunney and Vice Chairman Michael Thomson Sr. voted against the $1,000 fine for North Harford. Both said after the meeting that it should have been higher considering a licensee was involved.
Board member Vernon Gauss Jr. voted against the fine for Box Hill. He said after the meeting he thought the board could "adjust" it, considering the operators have been in business for about 25 years without a prior violation.