State Officials Warn Underage Drinkers

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TRENTON – With just two weekends left in the unofficial summer season, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is warning underage drinkers and those who would help them get alcohol to think twice before they try to buy liquor.

That’s because both local law enforcement and ABC investigators have made more than 200 arrests at the Shore this summer.

“We are going to be relentless in our efforts to combat underage drinking,” said Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Michael Halfacre. “We are placing a spotlight on everyone involved in this: from the underage person who tries to buy, to the adult who agrees to help them buy, to the bartender who serves them.

The ABC’s enforcement efforts are spearheaded by its Investigations Bureau. Since May, investigators have visited 130 licensed establishments in New Jersey and have carded 1,091 patrons, resulting in 81 arrests relating to the sale, service, or consumption of alcoholic beverages by person underage persons. Investigators are working closely with the State Police and county prosecutor’s offices in many of these details.

Recently, four people, including a bartender, were arrested and charged for underage-related violations at the Sand Bar Restaurant in Brielle. That bartender, Jessica Zeffiro, 28, of Ocean Township, was alleged to have sold alcohol on August 4 to 31-year-old Valerie Gialanella, of Barnegat, who then passed those drinks to Carly Unger, 19, and Alexa Rickert, 20, of Cedar Grove. Gialanella was charged with providing alcohol to persons under the legal age and Rickert and Unger were charged with consumption of alcohol underage.

That same day, ABC investigators observed Jeffrey M. Santiago, 21, purchase alcohol for Michael Malley, 18, at Corner Liquor Store in Union Beach. The investigators, who were monitoring the store from an adjacent parking lot, arrested Santiago and Malley after the former handed off the alcohol. Both men were Union Beach residents.

Underage drinking and purchasing alcohol underage are disorderly persons offenses, carrying potential fines of at least $500 and a six-month driver’s license suspension. The liquor licenses of establishments that are involved in underage enforcement efforts will be reviewed by ABC for possible administrative charges. Those charges could result in the suspension of the bar’s alcoholic beverage license.

“It’s not just individuals that face major consequences when it comes to underage drinking. Our licensees are strictly liable for what happens on their premises. That small sale to an underage person of a bottle of whiskey at the liquor store counter or a pint of beer at the bar carries with it major financial implications. That includes the potential loss of a license – which is a major investment and commodity for licensees,” Halfacre said.

The Division has also tallied early returns from its summer “Cops in Shops” program. With about half of the 30 participating police departments reporting, 130 people have been arrested for buying or attempting to buy alcohol at liquor stores.

Cops in Shops is a program designed by the Century Council, a national not-for-profit organization funded by distillers. Under the program, local police officers work undercover in participating retail locations. Law enforcement officials either pose as store employees or are positioned outside the establishment to apprehend adults who attempt to purchase alcohol for underage drinkers. The New Jersey Cops in Shops program is recognized nationally as a successful program.

Since its inception in 1996, nearly 10,000 underage persons and adults have been arrested in New Jersey as a result of the Cops in Shops initiative. Last summer, 246 people were arrested through the Cops in Shops summer program, up from 154 in 2010.

The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control also administers the Cops in Shops College-Fall Initiative and year-round program. The College-Fall Initiative grant is available to police departments in New Jersey with a college or university either within its borders or in a neighboring community and is aimed at keeping anyone under the age of 21 from drinking alcohol. This program runs from November through June. The lists of the towns participating in each Cops in Shops program can be found in the attached participant listing. This year, 21 police departments are running year-round Cops in Shops programs that began in the summer. This program is funded by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

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