Alcoholic Beverage Bureaucracy Targeting NJ Restaurant Business

Guest Post by Mara Zebest

Color me skeptical, but in the wake of the IRS scandal, it’s hard to trust the motives of any bureaucracy in which overreaching and arrogance seem to be a common theme.


A recent article from the DailyMail discusses a NJ sting operation by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The opening paragraph asserts that the restaurants substituted rubbing alcohol and “water that was not even clean”—neither claim offers any details when digging further—and the unclean water is never defined. The article accuses the establishments of a desire to increase profits as the motive. Isn’t every company guilty of that motive? What company is in business to lose money? And just a hunch, but clearly there would be a motive on Obama’s part to have his big government bureaucracy goons target a restaurant industry that has been outspoken in its objections to Obamacare.

There’s also the obvious bromance between NJ Chris Christie and Obama. On the Rush Limbaugh show that aired on May 23, 2013, a caller suggested that Obama might withhold disaster relief from conservative locations such as Oklahoma. Rush responded:

RUSH: I want to go back to the caller we had who asked me if I thought Obama might not come through with aid for Oklahoma or where he lived in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, because of politics. I checked the e-mail during the break, and a person said, “You know, that guy made more sense than I think you were acknowledging.” You go to the New York, New Jersey area, and you will find that Staten Island has gotten the least aid to recover from Hurricane Sandy. It’s a Republican borough. And the point was made that Obama’s modus operandi is punishment. Obama punishes enemies. He punishes people who don’t support him.

There are the examples of the Texas wildfires and the floods in Tennessee where there wasn’t any disaster relief. Requests were made for — what’s the term? Call it a disaster area. I forget. Disaster zone or something. He didn’t do that. That was denied, and so forth. And it reminded me, you know, when Sheldon Whitehouse, the Senator from Rhode Island who apologized for this later, but his first instinctive comment after the tornado in Oklahoma was to bash the people there and blame them as polluters and deniers for causing all of the destruction, weather-wise, in his area of the country. Remember that?

I mean, folks, it was sick what Sheldon Whitehouse said. He was essentially blaming Republicans in Oklahoma for the weather, destructive weather. […]

Read more here.

The DailyMail story could be a legitimate concern, but it could also be another attempt at punishing political enemies. The story details are scant and vague at best. The only statistics offering some level of detail is that out of 150 samples, 30 samples were not the brand ordered (that seems like a small sample rate and a vague complaint that may be a result of simply getting an order wrong). Note the officials would not name which locations supposedly substituted rubbing alcohol. Wouldn’t that be information to release if true?. Nor did they mention a number for how many complaints they received. Was it one person? Was it someone from CAIR? Those details would also be important to know. Despite the scant details, the amount of information requested by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control on the company and their customers seems massive. Its almost as if Lois Lerner was running the sting while on Administrative Leave.

The DailyMail offers the following details:

At one bar, a mixture that included rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring was sold as scotch. In another, premium liquor bottles were refilled with water – and apparently not even clean water at that.

State officials provided those new details Thursday on raids they conducted a day earlier as part of a yearlong investigation dubbed Operation Swill.

Twenty-nine New Jersey bars and restaurants, including 13 TGI Fridays, were accused of substituting cheap booze – or worse – for top-shelf brands while charging premium prices.

As part of Operation Swill, investigators collected 1,000 open bottles of vodka, gin, rum, scotch, whiskey and tequila from the wells of the bars, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.

Sounds like confiscation of property without due process similar to what happened to Gibson Guitar.

‘This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits and is a slap in the face of the consumer,’ Chiesa said.

Within seven days, the establishments must turn over records to help state authorities determine how many patrons were overcharged and by how much.

They also will have to inform the state which employees were at work the days samples were covertly taken earlier this year.

State officials would not say what establishment used the rubbing alcohol or which one used dirty water, or water not from a tap. They said no health issues were reported.

Hmmm… no health issues reported? Isn’t the amount of records requested a little excessive?

TGI Fridays Inc. said it was conducting its own investigation, working with the franchisee that owns the 13 restaurants cited, The Briad Group.

Ricky Richardson, President, Fridays USA said:
‘We consider the alleged actions detailed by the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to be very disturbing. If accurate, they would represent a violation of our company’s values and our extensive bar and beverage standards which are designed to deliver the highest guest experience in our restaurants. We have zero tolerance for actions that undermine the trust of our guests and call into question the reputation we have built up over the past 48 years. […]

An informant with knowledge of the industry contacted the agency in the fall to help in the investigation, he said.

In January and February, investigators went to 63 establishments they suspected were scamming liquor customers.

They ordered drinks neat – that is, without ice or mixers – and then covertly took samples for testing.

The undercover inspectors tested vodka brands such as Grey Goose and Ketel One; scotch, such as Johnny Walker Black and Dewar’s; and Jose Cuervo Silver and Gold tequila.

Of 150 samples collected, 30 were not the brand as which they were being sold.

The establishments face suspensions of their liquor licenses and possible revocations if there are enough violations.

Read more here. I would like some more details before condemning these restaurants. What better way to punish the restaurant industry than by withholding their liquor license… huh?

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