By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
Five Cumberland County businesses were either fined or given a 90-day suspension of their license to sell beer after selling beer to underage individuals during an undercover sting operation organized by the sheriff's department.
One case was continued until July, which made a total of six alleged offenders.
The Cumberland County Beer Board met Wednesday morning and reviewed the cases during a hearing to determine if there was a violation and what the punishment would be if there was an offense.
"We want a message sent out that this board is serious and we are not going to tolerate violations like this," said David Hassler, 3rd District commissioner and beer board chairman.
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.
After the purchases were made, the confidential informants, one 18-year-old and one 19, went to Elmore and he in turn went into the establishment and cited them with a violation.
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.
All were placed under oath as a group before they testified.
The businesses were selected randomly, according to Elmore and Cox.
Those businesses cited for the violations include:
• The Stop Package Store on Hwy. 70 W. (Sparta Hwy.) David Parks, owner, sold a six-pack of beer to underage informant. Parks is also charged with contributing to a minor. Given a choice of a 90-day beer permit suspension, or to pay a $2,500 fine. Parks chose the 90-day suspension.
Parks said "he thought the driver's license said the birth date was 1991, but it was actually 1994" and it was a mistake.
• D&R Convenience Stores, LLC — Plateau BP on Plateau Rd., Sonal Jignesh Upadhyay, owner, sold a six pack of beer to underage informant. Upadhyay was represented by Crossville attorney Kevin Bryant. Kenneth Chadwell represented Cumberland County in this case, at no charge to the county, as there was a conflict with county attorney Boston.
Bryant requested a fine of $500 in lieu of the license suspension, but it was denied. The beer board unanimously agreed to offer a $1,500 fine or 90-day permit suspension. They have seven days to pay the fine to the clerk's office or take the suspension. Upadhyay was also charged with contributing to a minor.
• Sawmill Market on Hwy. 68. Sarojben Ashokumar Patel, owner, allegedly sold a six pack of beer to underage informant. Attorney Kelly Tollett is representing Patel and said Patel is out of the country and was unable to attend the hearing and she has not had a chance to meet with Patel. Tollett requested a continuance and it was granted until July 15 at 5 p.m. at the next beer board meeting.
• Mayland Food Mart, Hwy. 70 N. Suhab Sarker, owner, sold a six pack of beer to underage informant. Given a choice of a 90-day beer permit suspension or to pay a $2,500 fine, Sarker chose to pay the fine. Sarker was also charged with contributing to a minor. Sarker said he didn't know what happened, or how it happened and apologized to the board stating he has "never had a mistake like this before."
• 101 Market on Lantana Rd., Cheryl Wilcox, employee, sold a six pack of beer to underage informant. Donald Sawyer, manager of the store, appeared to handle and represent the case for store owner Prodip Debnath. Sawyer said the clerk checked the ID but failed to confirm the age. The clerk's "glasses were out of prescription." He said that was not to imply innocence, but to show an effort was made. He said all of the employees at the 101 Market were retrained for tobacco and alcohol sales and the clerk was reprimanded.
If there's any question, "We now have a magnifying glass behind the counter," Sawyer said. "Hopefully, this won't happen again."
Sawyer was given a choice of a 90-day beer permit suspension, or to pay a $2,500 fine. Sawyer chose the fine. Wilcox was also charged with contributing to a minor.
• Time Zone Bar, Hwy. 68, Tim Novencido, owner, sold a 12 oz. beer to the underage informant. Novencido said he was guilty of it but his glasses were out of prescription and he thought the date on the ID was the right date.
"If I had the glasses, it wouldn't have happened," Novencido said.
The board unanimously agreed to offer Novencido the same choice of either paying a $2,500 fine or facing a 90-day beer permit suspension. Novencido chose to pay the fine. Novencido was also charged with contributing to a minor.
Boston reminded those attending they had a right to appeal the case if they desired, or did not agree with the board's decision.
The charges of contributing to a minor are separate cases to be heard in Cumberland County General Sessions Court.
Cox said there were 18 places randomly visited by the underage confidential informants on Thursday, May 23.
"The majority of these places did the right thing," Cox said. "We want to send a message out that we are going to take care of our kids."
Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner, thanked Cox and Elmore "For the work they have done to keep our kids safe."
Members of the Cumberland County Beer Board are Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner; Hassler; Charles Seiber, 4th District commissioner; Jan McNeil, 5th District commissioner; and Harvel. Seiber did not attend the hearing.