Across Richland County, 46 businesses have been cited for giving alcohol to underage drinkers, promoting gambling and facilitating food stamp fraud over the past five years.
Of the county’s 171 violations, the most common citation was for providing beer to a person younger than 21, according to Ohio Investigative Unit records compiled by CentralOhio.com. Businesses were cited 82 times for giving alcohol to underage people over five years; ranking the county slightly higher than the state’s average of six citations per 10,000 residents.
Adams County’s rate was the highest with 24 violations per 10,000 residents. Eleven mostly rural counties had no numbers listed, and some of those had no violations.
“The majority of it is lack of training employees,” METRICH Commander Lt. Keith Porch said. “The employees get busy and just glance at the IDs, and they’re not paying attention to the numbers when they should be.”
The now-closed Chris’s Cafe, 1111 W. Fourth St., had the most violations in the county in the past five years. The business was cited 20 times for gambling-related violations between November and December 2010.
Goodfellows Pizzeria and Pub, 1341 Park Avenue West, Mansfield, received the second most violations. All but one of the 16 citations were related to inappropriate sexual conduct and nudity in April 2011. The other violation was for providing beer to a person younger than 21 in October 2013.
But rather than close down, owner Louis Sorrenti chose to reform.
“I’m not a problem bar,” Sorrenti said. “We’ve completely renovated the business and spent a lot of money to turn it around.”
Fifteen of his violations revolved around a single incident — a group of male dancers he hired for a bachelorette party, he explained. Each of the five dancers received three violations, and Sorrenti received all 15.
The second incident involved an employee who “saw a cute girl” at the bar and didn’t check her ID, despite his Ohio Investigative Unit “Ask Program” training to always card, Sorrenti said. The man no longer works for him, he said.
“It was a mistake on my part by not getting reviews for those dancers,” Sorrenti said. “This is not something that happens a lot. It’s a black eye on our business.”
Mansfield Law Director John Spon backed Sorrenti’s improvements. He said his office and the Mansfield Police Department have been visiting area bars to talk about needed changes. Goodfellows has “responded in an exemplary way” to some of those recommendations, he said.
“Compared to many others, they’ve cleaned up their act from 2009 and are managing the business honorably,” Spon said. “If all bar owners could respond like Mr. Sorrenti, we’d be really happy.”
Across Ohio, liquor agents have cited businesses more than 3,200 times for selling beer to underage drinkers over the past five years. Providing beer to a person younger than 21 is the most common violation cited.
Citations for providing liquor to underage drinkers were much less common, with about 300 citations issued over the past five years.
About 90 agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit respond to complaints from citizens and local law enforcement about businesses violating state liquor laws. Most investigations involve beer or liquor, such as citing a bar for selling beer to a person younger than 21, but the unit’s purview also expands to gambling offenses and improper use of food stamps, Agent-In-Charge Eric Wolf said.
Gambling is policed by a number of agencies from the Ohio Lottery Commission to the Ohio Casino Control Commission depending on the type of game, but liquor agents can get involved when the businesses promoting illegal gambling also sell alcohol, Wolf said.
The unit also investigates illegal use of food stamp benefits. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, cannot be used for tobacco and alcohol, but consumers may try to break that ban or sell their benefits for cash, Wolf said.
Police officers can charge individuals with giving beer to an underage drinker, but the business can be cited only by the Ohio Investigative Unit.
“We ensure the businesses are operating a legal business and a safe business,” Wolf said.
Once a business is cited for a violation, the case is sent to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which determines whether the business owners want to admit or deny the violation occurred. From there, a civil trial is held before the Ohio Liquor Control Commission.
Commissioners determine whether the business’s employees are at fault for the violation. If they are found responsible, penalties range from a warning to revocation of the business’s liquor permit, Wolf said.
Liquor agents react to complaints they receive, so the businesses cited are not necessarily the worst offenders but rather the ones with the most substantiated complaints. The unit does not keep track of problem areas or compile county-by-county statistics. Wolf said they keep numbers on levels of enforcement and some regional information about violations.
“We don’t really have a follow-up procedure in place,” Wolf said. “They (repeat offenders) generally come up in complaints again.”
Businesses cited for liquor violations
Business Address Number of violations
1111 W. Fourth St., Mansfield
Goodfellows Pizzeria and Pub
1345-1349 Park Ave. West, Mansfield
Nelly’s Hide Away
3717 Park Ave. West, Ontario
Lulu’s Bar & Grill
328 Orange St., Mansfield
J&J Food Mart
305 Marion Ave., Mansfield
880 Laver Road, Mansfield
495 Woodville Road, Mansfield
Mountain Drive Thru
481 Springmill Ave., Mansfield
Lexington Avenue Drive Thru
261 Lexington Ave., Mansfield
138-142 Mansfield Ave., Shelby
275 E. Main St., Mansfield
98 Lexington Ave., Mansfield
1215 Lexington Ave., Mansfield
Lex Beverage Center
27 Plymouth St., Mansfield
10 Broadway, Shelby
Secretz Bar & Grill
261 N. Bowman St., Mansfield
VFW Post 9943
806 Grace St., Mansfield
1394 E. Ashland Road, Mansfield
3636 Park Ave. West, Ontario
Easy Trip Store
26 W. Main St., Lexington
Hamilton’s One Trip
244 W. Main St., Lucas
Mansfield Fuel & Food
3880 W. Fourth St., Mansfield
1050 W. Fourth St., Mansfield
7 N. Main St., Bellville
1257 Park Ave. East, Mansfield
Top Hat Gentleman’s Club
1901 Ashland Road, Mansfield
In ‘N’ Out Mart
300 N. Mulberry St., Mansfield
1380 Lexington Ave., Lexington
302 Marion Ave., Mansfield
Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge 422 Shelby
102 N. Gamble St., Mansfield
1330 N. Lexington Springmill Road, Ontario
Bellville Downtown Mickey Mart
61 Mill Road, Bellville
1060 Ashland Road, Mansfield
750 Lexington Ave., Mansfield
Wakeman Oil Co.
750 Ohio 97 West, Bellville
Joe & Mary’s Market and Deli
162 Sturges Ave., Mansfield
Clear Fork Valley Resort
341 Resort Drive, Butler
882 Ashland Road, Mansfield
VFW Post 5101
3577 U.S. 42, Lexington
Beer Dock and Drive Thru
36 Mansfield Ave., Shelby
12-14-16 E. Main St., Plymouth
504 W. Fourth St., Mansfield
Barber Shop Lounge and Patio
936 Springmill St., Mansfield
451 Grace St., Mansfield
1130 Park Ave. East, Mansfield
Park Avenue Drive Thru
295 Park Ave. West, Mansfield
Total violations Richland County 171
Source: Ohio Investigative Unit records between 2009-2013
Most common violations
Number of violations
Furnishing beer to a person under 21 years of age - 33
Sale of beer to a person under 21 years of age - 31
Gambling - operating a gambling house - 7
Furnishing intoxicating liquor to a person under 21 years of age - 7
Gambling - recklessly permitting public gaming - 7
Improper conduct - engage in sexual activity - 7
Gambling - electronic video gambling device - 7
Gambling - acquire, possess, control or operate a gambling device - 7
Gambling - game of chance for profit or scheme of chance - 7
Total violations 171
Source: Ohio Investigative Unit records between 2009-2013
Originally published in the News Journal on December 15, 2013.