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FAIRFIELD -- When officers went undercover on a recent Tuesday night, they expected to catch maybe a handful of underage drinkers in local bars. But the number they found at Bravo on the Post Road -- 106 -- was staggering.
"That number, it's obscene," Deputy Chief Nightclub Middle Csba – amp; East Restaurant The cIWq1Sn said. And disappointing, he said, to find so many flouting the law just around the corner from police headquarters.
"We do a lot of training and meetings specifically with the college students to get the message across," MacNamara said. A majority of the illegal imbibers at Bravo's were students at Fairfield and Sacred Heart universities.
So far, only six of the 106 who were either seen by police actually drinking or who admitted to drinking were issued infractions for possession of alcohol by a minor.
In Connecticut, the infraction means a $136 fine and an automatic 30-day license suspension for the first offense.
There were six detectives and five patrol officers at Bravo's, along with agents from the state Liquor Control Commission, MacNamara said, but they were not prepared for such a large number of underage drinkers. "Normally, when we do these operations we are able to handle it right then and there, but we didn't have the resources," he said. "We're continuing to gather information and follow up on this."
The fake IDs came from a variety of states, he said. "We're talking to all the individuals and determining what, if any, enforcement action will be taken," MacNamara said. He said police are also looking at how one establishment ended up with so many minors on the same night.
John Suchy, director of Liquor Control, said the permit holder is "held strictly accountable for what occurs within the permit premises."
He said they are still investigating the matter from a regulatory perspective at this time. "It is quite possible that the department will pursue administration charges against Bravo Restaurant and Bar alleging sales of alcohol to minors and minors in a barroom."
Michael P. Constand is listed as the permittee for Bravo, as well as the manager for Bravo Restaurant LLC, the establisment's owner. A message left for Constand on the restaurant's answering machine was not returned.
Should any charges be brought against Bravo, Suchy said they can contest them in a hearing before the commission.
"At this time, however, it would be premature for me to definitively indicate what charges, if any, and how many counts, if any, would be leveled against Bravo," Suchy said.
Fake IDs and underage drinkers are not a new phenomenon, but as technology has advanced, so has the authenticity of those fake licenses.
One Web site offers "state ID cards", that appear identical to state driver's licenses for $100 a pop. It's another $30 if you want a hologram and $20 for rush shipping via FedEx. The site doesn't accept personal checks for their "novelty IDs" and nowhere on there does it give an address for the company, though under the terms and conditions a customer must accept before placing an order, it states the agreement is governed by the laws of the state of Texas.
The site brags about the quality of its IDs and mails orders in a plain white envelope.
But fake IDs are not the only way underage drinkers get into bars or make purchases at liquor stores, MacNamara said.
Some, he said, will use the license of someone else of legal age who matches their description or alter an official license, and still others might use fraudulent information at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get an official license.
"With the advent of the Internet and computers, it becomes a little more complicated," MacNamara said, for bartenders, waiters and package store employees to spot a fake ID. But, like Suchy, MacNamara said that doesn't the excuse that "it looked legit" is automatically accepted. "They're still responsible for everyone they ID," he said.
In 2007, the Greenwich Coalition to Combat Underage Drinking, which has since disbanded, passed out plastic sleeve decoders to all businesses in that town with a liquor license. The device shows hidden markings on a legitimate driver's license.
And here, police don't simply arrest those with fake IDs, they go after the source. Last year, local police busted two Fairfield University students who were selling fake New York driver's licenses over the Internet for $100 each. The students had a laminator, spray adhesive, and an ID cutter and it wasn't the first time police arrested college students for supplying the phony licenses. In 1997,two Fairfield University students were kicked off campus for selling fake IDs from their dorm rooms.