Alcohol charges dropped | SteamboatToday.com

Alcohol charges dropped

Stores face fines, community service for failing checks

Alexis DeLaCruz

— Liquor store owners and clerks have been forced to pay fines and do community service for selling alcohol to minors in the past year.

One store — Go-Fer Foods — has been cited twice for failing compliance checks in the past 12 months, but the charges against the store’s clerks were dropped each time. Go-Fer is the only store cited to have charges against it dismissed.

Steamboat Springs police randomly conduct compliance checks in which underage individuals try to buy alcohol at area stores. Clerks who sell to minors during the checks are cited, as are the store owners.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today reviewed all the cases resulting from the three compliance checks conducted in the past 12 months — in November 2004 and January and September 2005.

Twenty-five alcohol vendors were checked, including liquor stores, restaurants and convenience stores. Five stores were checked twice for a total of 30 compliance checks. Those checks resulted in 14 citations, a failure rate of nearly 50 percent.

Serving alcohol to a minor is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which has a penalty of as much as 12 months of jail time and $1,000 in fines.

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Most of the cases in the past year were resolved with plea agreements.

Owners most often were sentenced to between 40 and 60 hours of public service and $500 fines. Clerks faced sentences of 30 to 60 hours of public service and $100 fines.

No clerk has been cited more than once in the past year. Three stores — Arctic Liquors, Go-Fer Foods and On the Way Market — have been cited twice, all in the January and September compliance checks. The Wine Rack and 7-Eleven passed compliance checks in January but were cited in September.

The owner of Arctic Liquors, Jon Harris Greene, was sentenced to 40 hours of public service, court costs and a year of deferred judgment for the January citation. For the September violation, new Arctic Liquors owners Bruce Wasko and Donald Wasko were sentenced to 60 hours of public service and were ordered to pay court costs. The Waskos also received a year of deferred judgment.

On the Way Market owner Kelly Gilstrap was sentenced to 40 hours of public service and court costs for the January incident. Gilstrap died in an August traffic accident, and there is no record of an On the Way Market owner being cited in the September incident.

The cases for Go-Fer Foods are more complicated. Citations were issued against clerk Ryan Browning and owner Dan Bonner in January; however, all charges from that incident were dismissed.

Court documents stated that the charges were dismissed because the underage witnesses who purchased the alcohol were unavailable.

The District Attorney’s Office did not immediately return phone calls Friday to explain the reason for the dismissal.

Go-Fer Foods clerk Sherid Schonert as well as Bonner and his wife, Kim, were cited as a result of the September compliance check.

Kris Hammond, an attorney who represents Schonert and the Bonners, said charges against Schonert have been dismissed. Deputy District Attorneys Tammy Jenson and Marc Guerette, prosecutors of the cases, denied that, saying charges had not been dropped in any case.

“We intend on prosecuting them,” Jenson said.

Guerette added: “I have not dismissed any cases nor has anyone else. They’re still fully in effect. There seems to be some strange rumors going on about these cases.”

Court documents in Scho–nert’s case indicate the District Attorney’s Office has at least recommended dismissal. The most recent document, which appears to have been signed by Guerette on Sept. 23, states, “The interests of justice would best be served by the dismissal as herein requested.”

The case against the Bonners is pending.

Dan Bonner said the compliance checks have been a source of frustration. Although his store has been cited twice, Bonner said that because of the dismissals, he has never seen any evidence that his store sold alcohol to a minor.

Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Jordan said the Steamboat Springs City Council is concerned about the high rate of failure during compliance checks. Council members are exploring the option of implementing administrative hearings. Such hearings would allow the council, which also is the city’s liquor licensing authority, to take action against a store’s liquor license for selling to minors. Such action would be in addition to the criminal citations issued by police and administered by the courts.

The council is expected to discuss the issue Oct. 18.

— To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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