By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
One convenience market owner was given a choice of either paying a $2,000 fine or taking a 90-day suspension of its license to sell beer after selling it to a minor during a sting operation in May of this year.
The incident occurred at Sawmill Market on Hwy. 68. Sarojben Ashokumar Patel, owner, allegedly sold a six pack of beer to an underage informant and was one of six businesses that were charged in the sting operation.
The other five cases were heard in June, but Patel’s case was continued because her attorney, Kelly Tollett, said Patel was out of the country at the time and was unable to attend the hearing and she had not had a chance to meet with Patel.
Tollett requested a continuance in June and it was granted until July 15.
The Cumberland County Beer Board met prior to July’s county commission meeting to hear the case.
Tollett proposed instead of issuing a fine or suspension that the vendor elect to participate in the state of Tennessee’s Responsible Vendor Act.
With the Responsible Vendor Act, convenience stores and grocers are mandated to receive extensive training pertaining to beer sales. These vendors must also participate in a certification program which is to be annually renewed.
“They regret that this happened and it has not happened before. If you allow them to go into this program it will ensure this will not happen in the future,” Tollett said.
“I’m against it,” Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner, said.
Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner, recommended a $1,500 fine subject to the Sawmill Market and all employees becoming certified under the Responsible Vendor Act within 60 days and, if they are not, the fine be $2,500.
No other member supported Sabine’s motion, though.
Harvel said he would like to hear both sides of the story and hear the details in the Sawmill Market case.
In each case, one or two underage, undercover confidential informants were sent to the establishment and attempted to purchase beer while Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Jason Elmore was nearby.
Cumberland County Attorney Randal Boston acted on behalf of the county and the beer board and questioned both the alleged offenders and Elmore as well as Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department Chief Investigator Casey Cox.
The underage informant was present at the hearing.
Elmore testified that in the case of the Sawmill Market, “They didn’t even ask for his ID. Others did and the beer wasn’t even bagged.”
“My problem is he looks like he’s 16 and they didn’t question that? That bothers me badly,” Harvel said.
Tollett explained Mrs. Patel, didn’t deny it happened, but was rushed and preoccupied with preparing for her trip out of the country to India and was nervous as she was working by herself. The informant was the second customer she waited on.
“I know that’s no excuse, but I’m just clarifying what happened,” Tollett said.
Harvel moved for a $2,500 fine or a 90-day suspension. Charles Seiber, 4th District commissioner, supported the motion.
Jan McNeil asked to amend the motion and reduce the fine to $2,000 and let them participate in the Responsible Vendor Act program or a 90-day suspension.
Both Harvel and Seiber approved McNeil’s amendment.
Sabine voted no. The remaining members voted yes and the penalty was approved.
Sawmill Market paid the $2,000 fine according to records in Cumberland County Clerk Jule Bryson’s office.
Four of the offenders in June were given a choice of a 90-day beer permit suspension or to pay a $2,500 fine and one was fined $1,500.
Other businesses cited for the violations in June included:
• The Stop Package Store on Hwy. 70 W. (Sparta Hwy.)
• D&R Convenience Stores, LLC — Plateau BP on Plateau Rd.
• Mayland Food Mart, Hwy. 70 N.
• 101 Market on Lantana Rd.
• Time Zone Bar, Hwy. 68.
Members of the Cumberland County Beer Board are Cumberland County commissioners Sabine, David Hassler, 3rd District commissioner and beer board chairman; Seiber; McNeil, and Harvel.