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Sweep Arrests 22 Store Clerks in Sales of Alcohol to Minors

Times Staff Writer

Twenty-two clerks at liquor stores in the East San Fernando Valley were arrested over the weekend for selling alcohol to underage volunteers working with the Los Angeles Police Department, authorities said Sunday.

The undercover operation targeted stores in neighborhoods where residents have complained that bars and liquor stores regularly ignore alcohol sales regulations, contributing to crime and violence, police said.

Two 19-year-old technical reserve officers, accompanied by police vice officers and a supervisor from the state Alcohol Beverage Control board, attempted to buy liquor at stores in Pacoima, Sunland, Tujunga, Sylmar and Mission Hills between 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 a.m. Sunday, said Detective Al Civitate.

The reserve officers, who serve as police assistants, took six-packs of beer from the cooler and put them on the counter, waiting for the clerk to make the next move, Civitate said.

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Two of the clerks arrested asked the underage buyers how old they were, but allowed them to purchase the beer despite receiving truthful answers, he said. Twenty other clerks sold the beer without asking the youthful-looking volunteers how old they were, police said.

In California, 21 is the legal drinking age.

East Valley activists blame bars and liquor stores for a high rate of alcohol-related traffic injuries and deaths in their community. They say the businesses routinely ignore regulations prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors and to patrons who are obviously drunk.

Residents have charged that alcohol sales contribute to the high level of gang violence in the area and have launched a campaign to ban liquor sales in Pacoima after 10 p.m. They recently persuaded zoning administrators to deny liquor permits for eight new stores.

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The 22 clerks were cited and released, authorities said. Selling alcohol to minors is a misdemeanor, carrying a possible fine of $300 to $1,500 for each violation.

Businesses involved in the sale also can face the loss of their license to sell alcohol if they are found to have repeated violations, authorities said. In the spring, three liquor stores with a history of problems were slapped with restrictions ranging from a prohibition on sales after 10 p.m. to a ban on sales of cold beer and cheap, strong wine.


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