Alcohol compliance sweep leads to two firings Friday

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Crime: NM SID conducted operations in Los Alamos

By Whitney Jones

A random compliance sweep Friday put two alcohol servers in Los Alamos out of work.
The New Mexico Department of Public Safety Special Investigation Department’s Lt. Chris Ortiz said officers conducted a minor compliance operation at 11 establishments in Los Alamos that sell alcohol.
“Two locations sold to a minor,” Ortiz said.
He said the operation involved an undercover minor, which the department recruits and trains to go into liquor stores to buy a six-pack of beer or stroll up to a bar and order a drink.
“Just like anyone,” he said. Meanwhile, an undercover agent is already waiting inside the establishment to see what unfolds.
The Aspen Lounge’s Jason Minturn and the Blue Window Bistro’s Holly Mechels were casualties of the Friday night sweep. Both failed to ask for identification and sold the minor alcohol, Ortiz said.
Bistro owner Melissa Paternoster, who said she walked in just 30 seconds after Mechels served the beer to the minor, took the sweep as an eye-opener.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “We were busy, but it’s no excuse.”
Paternoster said in her year and half of owning the restaurant this was her first incident. She said all of her servers have taken the required server’s coursework and have been trained in the Bistro’s internal personnel policies. She said her staff should know to ask anyone who appears under 40 for identification before serving them a drink. But it’s back to the drawing board retraining her staff to ensure compliance with state law, Paternoster said.
She said she’s seen the minor there before, and thought in the back of her head that he was part of an undercover sting. In that particular incident, she said the server, other than Mechels, asked for the minor’s identification and was turned down, but this time, the server wasn’t so lucky. “It’s very, very unfortunate,” she said.
Paternoster said she fired Mechels after she finished her shift during the Friday night rush. Mechels is not only out of a job, but she also faces up to a $500 administrative fine, a 30-day suspension of her server’s license, or both for a first offense, according to the state Licensing and Regulation Department’s Alcohol and Gaming Division fine schedule.
And Paternoster won’t get off easy either. She faces a fine from $1,000 to $2,000 and a one-day suspension of alcohol sales.
Ortiz said the servers’ cases would also be handed over the First Judicial District Attorney’s office because selling to a minor is a fourth degree felony.    
Ortiz said his department does receive tips about stores or restaurants selling to minors, and that it is also standard procedure to conduct random checks throughout the state to ensure licensees and servers are following the law.
Ron Selvage, owner of the Hilltop House Hotel where the Aspen Lounge is located, was unavailable for comment.