Special Assignment: Undercover with the ATD

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News 12 at 6, November 1, 2007

RICHMOND COUNTY, GA -- Underage drinking is a continuing problem that law enforcement is constantly in a battle with.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says in 2005, nearly 2,000 teens died in accidents involving an underage driver who had been drinking. 12 On Your Side went undercover with government agents to bust businesses selling booze to minors.

For many Americans, alcohol is a way to relax and have a good time with friends. But too often, kids want to imitate what they see adults doing. To them, it makes them look older and more mature. However, it gets them in trouble or even killed.

Underage kids getting alcohol is a problem the Alcohol and Tobacco Division of the Georgia Department of Revenue is working hard to stay on top of.

And, they do it with undercover stings.

Here's how it works: two agents, one underage and one above-age enter an establishment. The underage tries to buy alcohol. If he can, the clerk and the business get cited. If he's asked for an ID, he makes up a story and leaves.

"I don't have my ID with me. I didn't drive," is a line our underage agent says on many occasions through-out the night.

12 On Your Side rode along with several agents for one of these stings. We stuck a wireless microphone on the underage agent and sent a 12 On Your Side producer in with a hidden camera to catch as much of the action we could.

On this day, there were 21 businesses to try.

Sometimes, the right questions are asked.

But sometimes, they're not. Time after time we saw our underage agent walk out with beer in hand, like at the first stop on Gordon Highway.

"You sold to an underage. I need to see your ID," said Special Agent Jason Dykes to the clerk Jayesh Patel.

The man didn’t even seem to know what was going on.

Jayesh Patel: "I didn't sell to 21."
Reporter: "We've got you on tape doing it."
Jayesh Patel: "Tape?"
Reporter: "Yeah. We have it on tape you selling to an underage person."

And wouldn't you know it, very easily seen on our hidden camera footage is Mr. Patel.

It was the same story at the One Stop Convenience Store on Barton Chapel.

Special Agent Dykes: "You sold to an underage."
One Stop Owner Chang Park: "Me? Usually we check ID."
Special Agent Dykes: "Well you didn't check ID on this guy."
Chang Park: "We just open two months ago. I check everything."

The agents say this is strictly business; they're not targeting anyone in particular, but after talking to them, you get the sense there is a sense of duty they're feeling as well.

"We hear about it everyday on the news as far as underage drinking. They get in the car and next thing you know, they're dead," one undercover ATD agent said.

They truly want results like this:

Clerk: "Got your ID?"
Underage and undercover Agent: "Don't have my ID with me."

But at places like the Summerville Ace Store on Walton Way, that doesn't happen.

The clerk, Stephen Roper, never even asked our underage agent for an ID when ringing him up. On top of that, ATD agents told 12 On Your Side that he's a teacher. He even had some papers he was grading while he was at work.

That's all Special Agent Jason Dykes needs to issue a citation.

Steven Roper quickly jumped into a utility closet when he spotted our cameras. But whether we got more footage of him or not, he and the owner of the store are getting a pretty hefty ticket.

"State law does not say you'll ID everyone, just that you'll ensure you won't sell to anyone under 21," said Special Agent Dykes.

Pretty soon, our 19-year-old agent walks out with more beer; this time at Walton Wine and Spirits.

"I need you to sign by the X. It's not an admission of guilt. It just says you got a copy of the citation," Special Agent Dykes says to Clerk Katrina Browman as he issues her a citation.

A lot of times, the special agents say the clerks just aren't paying much attention.

"The main thing is they really don't know they did it," Special Agent Dykes said.

The next stop is at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

"How much for a bottle of Corona?" asks our underage agent to the waiter.

Within minutes, a bottle of Corona is served to our 19-year-old underage agent at Teresa's Mexican Restaurant on Walton Way.

And, in comes Agent Dykes to issue a citation.

"Do you know where the Richmond County Sheriff's Office is?" Agent Dykes asks Acahua Venancio as he tries to explain to the waiter what he did and why he's in trouble for it.

All in all, seven businesses were cited for selling to a minors; seven businesses out of 21, which equals 30 percent. It's not a good percentage, but these Special Agents will keep working and trying to educate people.

And, if people are not paying attention, then they will pay the price.

"If it keeps it out of one hand that's one less person that a deputy is gonna’ have to knock on a door and tell them their loved one is dead," Agent Dykes said.

Each of the people cited will have to appear in court. If they’re convicted and it's their first offense, they'll owe around $500. The businesses will also pay a $500 fine. If it turns out they are repeat offenders, they could pay a heftier fine and risk losing their liquor license permanently.

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