Hearing doesn’t end in Ribitz’s favor: Store was one of 10 stores cited for selling alcohol to minors

Published 9:00 am Friday, November 5, 2021

The Troup County Board of Commissioners voted to revoke the alcohol license of Ribitz Bait and Tackle, one of 10 businesses found to be selling alcohol to underage customers following a sting operation in September.

The board held a hearing for the business during its meeting Tuesday, allowing Ribitz owner, Neal Patel, to make a statement before the county presented evidence against the business. After agreeing that a violation had occurred, Patel was issued a $750 reinstatement fee along with a 30-day beer and alcohol license suspension from Oct. 25 to Nov. 24.

During its Oct. 5 meeting, the board had approved for alcohol license revocation letters to be sent out to the 10 businesses. Each has since received acknowledgment of the violation and of the 10 businesses, only Ribitz, made a request in writing to be heard in a separate hearing.

On Sept. 23, investigators with the Troup County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Division conducted a sting operation targeting businesses believed to be selling alcohol to minors in the area. Investigators checked 19 locations in Troup County during the investigation and found that 10 locations did sell alcohol to a person under the age of 21.

Troy Anderson, the Troup County director of community development, led the hearing and asked the involved officers their perspective of what occurred during the sting.

Deputy Sheriff Kindre Scott, Deputy Sheriff Matt Boswell and Deputy Sheriff Nathan Taylor were the officers involved in the sting and gave testimonies on the incident. The undercover officer was underage and sworn in by Taylor prior to the sting. The undercover officer’s driver’s license, containing the birthdate Oct. 3, 2000, was submitted as evidence to the board, making the undercover officer 20 years and 11 months old. The officer was used in all 19 stops the sheriff’s office took part in as part of the operation. Nine of the 19 stores used proper verification identification with the license and did not sell the officer alcohol, Anderson said.

Scott acted as the case agent for the sting operation at Ribitz. He said that the undercover officer he sent in was equipped with audio devices to document the operation. The exchange between the undercover officer and the clerk was recorded by video footage as well.

When inside Ribitz, the officer purchased a 16 oz Natural Light from the female clerk, despite a discrepancy on his drivers ID.

“The undercover officer stated that the clerk did ask for his license, which he provided,” Scott said. “The clerk then said that he would have to get his license changed soon because it stated that he was under 21.”

Officers returned to the store soon after to alert the clerk that she had sold alcohol to a minor and issued her a citation, Scott said. When asked why she sold the alcohol, the clerk replied that she made a mistake, Scott said.

During the hearing, Patel claimed the clerk who sold an undercover youth alcohol was innocent in terms of inquiring for identification.

“The clerk in my store did ask for the ID for the undercover youth,” he said. “[The youth] was six feet tall and looked like he was 25-years-old, but still she asked for the ID.”

He said that she compared the ID to the sign over the store’s counter that states the legal age a customer can buy alcohol products.

“She checked the 2000 date was right, she checked that the day was right, she missed on the month from October to September,” Patel said. “I’m not denying that the sale happened, but she did ask for the ID.”

On top of the current violation, Patel was issued a misdemeanor for selling alcohol to a minor in 2018 as well. Patel has maintained a beer and wine license consistently since 2008, Anderson said.

Beer and wine license are updated annually, Anderson said, and though they are not required to revisit the ordinance, license applicants are initially given a copy of Section 6 of the county’s municipal charting stating the rights and regulations to selling alcohol.

“The renewal process only verifies U.S. citizenship, no problems with breaking the law and the number of employees,” Anderson said.

The other locations in which the clerks were issued citations are the following:

  • Hamilton Food Mart – 2876 Hamilton Road
  • Super G – 2744 Hamilton Road
  • Shell store – 4630 Hamilton Road
  • Marathon store – Rosemont Road
  • Shell store – 2860 Upper Big Springs Road
  • Valero – 1231 Bartley Road
  • Marathon – 2750 Roanoke Road
  • West Point Trading Post – 3400 West Point Road
  • West Point Grocery and Lottery – 7755 West Point Road

None of the other store owners asked for a hearing.