Belen —

Belen police detectives and officers were out in force last Thursday and Friday making sure businesses in Belen weren’t selling alcohol to minors. Three people were cited on charges that they sold or gave alcohol to minors.

Belen Police Detective Joe Griego said they cited one man Thursday night, charging he went into a local convenience store to buy beer for several teenagers.

“We went to Circle K, and we caught a guy who came in with some minors and bought them some alcohol,” Griego said. “The minors gave him some money and he walked in and purchased it. He walked back out, and they were outside where no one could see them. We saw him hand them the beer.”

Evaristo Sanchez, 39, of Belen was cited with selling or giving alcohol to a minor.

During Friday night’s operation, Belen police cited two people with selling or giving alcohol to a minor. An unidentified agent, who was over 18 years old, worked with police, who had her go into several package liquor establishments to see if they would sell alcohol to her.

The first citation was given at Carlos’ Bar and Lounge on South Main Street. Detective Griego said the agent went into the bar and asked to purchase Smirnoff Ice.

Jan Perea, 28, the bartender was cited on charges that he sold the alcohol to the minor. “She even carded the minor, but she still sold to her,” Griego said. The detective said the bartender miscalculated the age shown on the young woman’s ID.

The second citation of the evening was given to a clerk at Allsup’s in Rio Communities. Mirabal Lopez, 22, was also cited on charges she sold or gave alcohol to a minor.

“The minor purchased a six pack of Doc Ottis Hard Lemonade,” Griego said. “She (the clerk) carded the minor and even verified it with her supervisor before she sold it. They just did the math wrong.”

For the past five years, Griego has been working with Linda Rodriguez, the local DWI coordinator, in underage and retail compliance operations. Rodriguez said the retailers could assist their clerks with visual aids at the counter that would help them know who they may and may not sell alcohol to.

“It’s as simple as having a calendar in the store with the day, month and year marked as to who can buy the alcohol,” Rodriguez said.

Since he and every police department in the county have been conducting regular checks at local businesses, Rodriguez said, the compliance rate has increased.

“The retailers have really worked hard,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a continued effort, and they are really trying.”

Rodriguez noted several businesses in the county have stepped up their procedures to help curb underage drinking. “Giant stores have a 100 percent card policy now and Circle K has worked really well with us on our operations.

“Some of the retailers have actually invited us to come back to do Cops and Shops operations with them,” Rodriguez said.

Both Rodriguez and Griego said, since the underage drinking operations have been visible in Belen and throughout the county, the rate of compliance with retailers has risen. “The minors are out there attempting to purchase alcohol,” Rodriguez said. “What we’ve been able to see through our operations is that they’re getting the alcohol with help from adults.

“Because the retailers are really working on compliance, we believe the minors aren’t able to receive it on their own,” she said.

Rodriguez said 24 more underage drinking operations are slated throughout the county in the next seven months. “We’re going to be out in greater force during prom and graduation and in the summer months,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, we’ll have an impact on underage drinking in the county.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as the executive editor of El Defensor Chieftain, the News-Bulletin's sister paper in Socorro.
Clara is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.