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News9 Special Report: Underage drinking a problem in the Ohio Valley

Updated: Tuesday, February 25 2014, 10:07 PM EST

News9.com
 
It’s no secret that underage drinking is a problem in the Ohio Valley.
News9 called on the Ohio Investigative Unit to learn what steps are being taken to prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors in a Target 9 investigation.
News9’s Kate Davison rode along in undercover vehicles to learn more, as they stopped at nine places in and around the Steubenville area in two-and-a-half hours.
Agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit work as a team to see who is dishing out alcohol to minors. They collaborate with a minor informant (an individual under the age of 21).
“We send our informants into liquor establishments, whether that be a restaurant, a bar, a carryout,” Agent-In-Charge George Pitre said.
They send the minor in an establishment to make an attempt to purchase an alcoholic beverage.
If an individual is able to buy one, agents go into the store or bar and identify themselves with the Ohio Investigative Unit.
“They’ll be issuing a summons to the bartender for the liquor violation,” Pitre said. “Additionally, we’re going to issue a civil violation against the liquor license.”
Of the nine places News9 stopped, seven did not sell alcohol to a minor.
It’s a good compliance rate in the eyes of the state agents.
“We want these businesses to be successful,” Pitre said. “We want them to do the right thing.”
As a result of our investigation, two people were officially charged with the sale of beer to a person under the age of 21 in Steubenville Municipal Court, 32-year-old Erika D. Wood, of Plain Janes, and 33-year-old Rafael Fuentes-Lopez, of Puerto Vallarta.
The same night as News9’s ride along, Fuentes-Lopez was arrested by Steubenville police. Officers were called to the Mexican restaurant to assist agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit. While making the arrest, authorities discovered he was an illegal immigrant. Lopez was taken to jail to be picked up by Immigration and Customs.
Under Ohio law, a person who is found guilty of distributing alcohol to a minor could be fined up to $1,000 and be put in jail up to six months per offense.
Education is also a top priority at the Ohio Investigative Unit. The educational program to liquor permit holders and their staff called serving knowledge, or “ask,” is free of charge. They talk about the dos and don’ts and answer any questions.


News9 Special Report: Underage drinking a problem in the Ohio Valley


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