Undercover Compliance Checks – PLCB Rules and BLCE Enforcement Tactics

12/16/2019
If you own, operate, or work in a business that serves alcohol, you’ve probably been through RAMP Training, and your establishment may even be RAMP Certified (bonus points!). You probably also know the risks and penalties for non-compliance with any of the PLCB’s rules and regulations. But did you know that the PLCB doesn’t play a role in enforcement? They have the right to grant, suspend, or revoke a liquor license, and they do work WITH other agencies of course. An enforcement agency could actually be in your establishment right now or in the near future. No, seriously. “Stings” (undercover operations) are an integral part of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement’s (BLCE’s) plans to keep the public safe - and licensees and employees out of real trouble!

Let’s define a few terms here first. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) controls licensing, as you already know. It however, does not enforce the law or have the authority to issue citations. In 1987 that authority was transferred to the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), which created the BLCE. This division’s mission is to educate and inform licensees and protect the commonwealth by enforcing all liquor-related laws. In addition to the BLCE, the PLCB works with the office of the ALJ (Administrative Law Judge), who adjudicates (makes a legal decision) on every citation made by the BLCE. Licensees who get citations can either plead guilty and waive their right to appeal or appeal the citation and come to court for a hearing. The burden of proof is on the commonwealth (the BLCE) to prove that a violation of the liquor code occurred, meaning the licensee is innocent until proven guilty. Witnesses are called and sworn in, and testimony can be cross-examined by either side. After the judge rules on the matter, penalties are instituted where applicable. The decision gets communicated back to the PLCB who keep centralized adjudication records in a searchable database of decisions.

So, back to the undercover sting part. There are many different types of enforcement done by the BLCE, including “Nuisance Bar” investigations, gambling, underage drinking, clean air enforcement, to name a few. If it pertains to anything in the liquor code, the BLCE has a way to deal with it - some are undercover operations, some aren’t. Regarding service and/or sales to minors, the BLCE has the “Age Compliance Program”. Since 2005, under Act 141, the police have the right to use underage civilian volunteers (18 to 20-year old students from local colleges and universities across PA) in undercover stings. Called “Underage Buyers”, these volunteers go into establishments to see if they can get alcohol. If a sale is made, the BLCE informs the establishment of what just happened, and we go from there. The BLCE puts it like this: “administrative action is taken”. And that’s where our old friend the ALJ would come into the picture.

You can actually be charged for two violations, once under 47 P.S. 4-493 of the Liquor Code for “Unlawful Acts Relative to Liquor”, and then again under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code 18 Pa.C.S. 6310.1. If found guilty under the Crimes Code, you will have a misdemeanor offense on your record, which can be found during a background check. In addition, there are minimum penalties the court must impose, including fines of $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for each subsequent offense. That’s not including any penalties the PLCB might impose, like suspension or revocation of your liquor license, and these violations ONLY concern service or sale of alcohol to a minor. There could be dozens of other infractions of codes and regulations in your establishment if you AND your employees are not vigilant.

To mitigate your risk, it’s critically important for your business to do the following:
1. Create a comprehensive RAMP server/seller training plan for all RAMP-eligible employees (make sure you KNOW which employees are mandated under law to be trained) and a compliance training plan for all other employees (this can include New Hire Onboarding, internal “House Rules” specific to your establishment, and acknowledgement of the Employee Handbook/Policies and Procedures).
2. Develop a Compliance Checklist to review with employees regularly.
3. Regularly Self-Audit your establishment(s) - using your Compliance Checklist! - to see if things are really running like they should on a daily basis, and if you’re ready for a surprise inspection.
4. Get familiar with the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE), and how they operate in your area.
5. Partner with the PLCB by getting your establishment RAMP Certified - The PLCB is actually your ally and working WITH them can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Conclusion
Undercover compliance checks are just one (big) reason why your establishment must be in compliance at all times. Because the BLCE has these enforcement programs and it’s up to their discretion when and where to run these undercover stings, you really have to make sure you’re running a tight ship. Is 100% of your RAMP-required staff (servers, bouncers, doormen, etc) currently trained and in compliance? Is your establishment RAMP certified? If they are, great. Sometimes mistakes happen. If your establishment and your staff is trained and ready to spot potential risk, you just might avoid the stiffest penalties.

If you have any questions at all concerning RAMP Certification or RAMP Server/Seller Training, we’re here to make your life (and your business) worry-free. We’re currently offering a FREE 15-minute telephone consultation with our Compliance Expert, in which you can talk about anything and everything RAMP-related and get solid business advice. No Strings Attached. You can grab this opportunity just by clicking here and reserving a calendar spot, or fill out the form below to have us call you directly. Either way is fine - and it’s up to you!
   

RAMPtraining.com is the largest and most widely used online RAMP Server/Seller training provider in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with over 75,000 people trained. Our team collectively has over 25 years of regulatory compliance training experience and 95% of our users pass the RAMP course on the first attempt. We’re experts in the industry and we’re here to help you and your business succeed.

Contact Us for Your FREE RAMP Compliance Consultation Sources:
https://www.lcb.pa.gov/Licensing/Topics-of-Interest/Pages/Liquor-Licensing-and-Enforcement.aspx
https://www.lcb.pa.gov/Licensing/Topics-of-Interest/Documents/Enforcement_Fact_Sheet.pdf
https://www.psp.pa.gov/LCE/Pages/default.aspx
https://www.lcb.pa.gov/Legal/Office-of-ALJ/Pages/Default.aspx
https://www.psp.pa.gov/LCE/Pages/Types-of-Enforcement.aspx
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=18&div=0&chpt=63&sctn=10&subsctn=1
https://www.mystatecollegelawyer.com/q-a/furnishing-alcohol-to-a-minor-q-a/what-penalties-are-associated-with-a-conviction-of-furnishing-alcohol-to-a-minor/
https://www.mystatecollegelawyer.com/alcohol-related-offenses/furnishing-alcohol-to-minors/
https://govt.westlaw.com/pac/Document/N4ECFD760F23211E78978E47F01C997C8?contextData=(sc.Default)&transitionType=Default