Three prominent Durham businesses – Lexie’s, Phillips 66 and ffrost Sawyer Tavern – have failed a recent compliance check involving the selling of alcoholic beverages to an underage volunteer, according to the Durham Police Department (PD) and the New Hampshire Liquor Commission (NHLC).

Foster’s Daily Democrat reported on Oct. 14 that the Oct. 10 investigation, conducted in collaboration between Durham PD and the NHLC, enlisted the help of an unidentified underage volunteer sent to the 15 establishments in the town of Durham licensed to sell alcohol, each time asking to purchase an alcoholic beverage. Of the 15 businesses involved in the inspection, the aforementioned three failed to properly verify the 19-year-old male volunteer’s age and deny them the sale, consequently violating state and federal alcohol laws, where one must be 21 to legally buy alcoholic beverages.

“We contacted the New Hampshire Liquor Enforcement and they have a cadre of people who are under the age of 21, and they are trained to give their real ID when they’re asking for alcohol,” Durham Police Chief David Kurz told The New Hampshire while explaining the investigational procedure. “And it’s not…designed to fool people or to trick them into selling the alcohol; it’s simply looking to see if they’ll validate that the person is not 21.”

Kurz said the businesses that failed the compliance check either checked the ID and failed to deny him the sale or did not ask for age or ID in the first place. Both Fosters’ and Kurz stated that three individuals involved with the illegal transactions – Kristen Miner of Epping, Alyssa Jameson of Nashua, and Brian Estelle of Newmarket – have each been charged by the NHLC with a Class B misdemeanor – the sale of alcohol to a minor – and are scheduled to a summons on Nov. 15 at the Dover District Court; Kurz could not confirm whether any of the individuals were UNH students.

“Now, we [Durham PD] could do something about it [the illegal transactions] ourselves, but we’re more interested in working with liquor enforcement, because now they start looking at the ability of the company to sell alcohol,” Kurz said, adding that the implications fall on both the individual employee and the company as a whole.

NHLC Chief Law Enforcement Officer Mark Armaganian, who serves as the director of the commission’s Division of Enforcement and Licensing, added that the commission works closely with its “municipal partners” in the different towns and cities across the state, including the Durham PD in this case, to ensure that both students and younger residents overall are “first and foremost” kept safe in establishments licensed to sell alcohol until they reach the legal drinking age.

“On top of that, the process…is a process that goes through a board that set up here of individuals that are in the community, both civilian and sworn, and it’s all done with the mindset of fairness,” Armaganian said, “and so there’s no trickery; we’re not throwing that under-21-year-old out there that looks as if they’re 45.”

Armaganian stressed that the NHLC performs the investigation consistently, and usually before a major event takes place in the area; concerning the most recent check in Durham, the chief said it was conducted in preparation for Homecoming weekend.

Like Kurz, Armaganian said the operation holds both individual employees and their employers accountable for any illegal transaction. Per Armaganian, businesses that fail the check must attend training seminars that “coincide with their violations.” While failing businesses do not lose their license to sell alcohol following routine compliance checks – especially if they are first-time offenders – the NHLC continues to keeps track of businesses, particularly those with a history of “progressive non-compliance.”

Karen Meyer, innkeeper for the ffrost Sawyer Tavern – one of the three affected businesses – said that she is familiar with the program and that she doesn’t know how the bartender on duty at the time failed to properly ID the underage individual, adding that it has been a “very long time” since the Tavern has failed a compliance check.

Meyer added that both the manager and bartender on duty that day are attending respective training sessions, stressing that the situation is “nothing we take lightly.” 

Representatives from Phillips 66 and Lexie’s could not be reached for comment prior to publication.

“It’s always tough to tell, cause each situation is different in and of itself,” Armaganian said. “But at the same time, we’re looking to work with our licensees to help them stay in compliance. We’re not looking to trick them with an ‘I-got-ya’ mentality; that’s not how we work here.”

Benjamin Strawbridge is a News Editor and Official Senate Correspondent for The New Hampshire student newspaper based at the University of New Hampshire, where he reports on the university's Student Senate and other breaking news; he joined TNH in Sept. 2017 as a contributor.
Strawbridge currently attends UNH as a English/Journalism major and part of the UNH Class of 2020.