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Laws thwart liquor board

November 26, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

Ten guilty verdicts handed down Wednesday in Washington County District Court for selling alcohol to minors may give the liquor board the teeth it needs to take action on tavern owners, according to an attorney for the liquor board.

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John Salvatore, attorney for the Washington County Board of Alcoholic Beverages License, commonly known as the liquor board, said Maryland law precludes the liquor board from going after the owners if the clerks get probation before judgment in court.

"The liquor board would like to take more action but has been frustrated by the law's limitations," Salvatore said.

Indeed Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum told Judge Noel Spence the state now opposes probation before judgment for those reasons.

"With probation before judgment, the liquor board won't be able to find any administrative penalties," Lochbaum said.

On Nov. 16, the first two of the 13 clerks charged in a September sting got probation before judgment in District Court.

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Kenneth Wayne Anderson, 80, of 10910 Gaywood Drive, got probation before judgment and a $175 fine for selling to a minor at Cavetown Liquors.

Michael Songbok Chae, 45, of 10113 George St., got probation before judgment and a $250 fine for selling to a minor at Interstate Liquors in Hagerstown.

Donald L. Mellott, liquor board chairman, said sanctions can range from probation to closing a business for up to 30 days to a $2,500 fine.

"The licensee is responsible for the employee," he said.

Some Maryland counties have amended the law to allow liquor boards to penalize businesses even when their employees receive probation before judgment.

Mellott said liquor board members in Washington County have unsuccessfully lobbied state legislators for a similar change.

On Wednesday, all 10 defendants pleaded guilty, were found guilty and were fined $250 each. They were:

* Zachary Thomas Changuris, 20, of 2815 Rohrersville Road, Brownsville. He was working at Coach's Liquors in Boonsboro.

* Betty Lee Curley, 53, of 223 W. Antietam St., Sharpsburg. She was working at Sharpsburg General Store.

* Lilly Arbutus Griffith, 56, of 5007 Churchey Road, Keedysville. She was working at Battleview Market in Sharpsburg.

* Cassandra Lee Higdon, 39, of 314 S. Locust St. She was working at Dogpatch Tavern in Boonsboro.

* Arthur George Kennard, 68, of 34 Homewood Ave., Falling Waters, W.Va. He was working at Third Base Tavern in Williamsport.

* Norma Ellen Lemley, 41, of 16716 National Pike. She was working at Sunset Tavern in Hagerstown.

* Belinda Sue Nave, 44, of 36 Fairground Ave. in Hagerstown. She was working at Shamrock Inn in Hagerstown.

* Jerry Wayne Pittsnogle, 52, of 11234 Hollywood Road. He was working at Washington Center Liquors in Hagerstown.

* Ronald Allen Pittsnogle, 55, of 4 Mayberry Court, Mechanicsburg, Pa. He was working at Pick's Place in Williamsport.

* David Wayne Smith, 41, of 11320 National Pike, Clear Spring. He was working at The Ranch in Clear Spring.

The 13th defendant, Donald Andrew Wilson, 50, of 11475 Fawnbridge, will be in court Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. He was working at C&R Liquors in Hagerstown.

Lochbaum told Spence that each clerk was shown a profile identification card by the cadet which clearly showed a birthdate of a person not yet 21.

Lewis Metzner, attorney for Jerry Pittsnogle, argued that it was unfair to deny his client and the others probation before judgment so "someone else can be prosecuted."

But Spence said he is tired of seeing young people in court for underage drinking.

"Maybe if this court puts a little pressure on the owners, that will change," Spence said.

Most of the clerks said they were busy and even when they looked at the identifications, they didn't notice the person was underage.

Changuris said he felt it was unfair that the cadet had a five o'clock shadow and didn't look like a minor. But he admitted he made no request for identification.

"He shouldn't be in knickers or dressed like a child, should he?" Spence asked Changuris.

Maryland State Police checked 59 bars and liquor stores throughout the county during several weeks in September, using cadets to attempt to make purchases.

The cadets were able to buy alcohol in about 20 percent of those establishments, police said.

The maximum penalty for selling alcohol to a minor is two years in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

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