By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office was busy keeping minors safe when two operations held toward the end of 2012 focused on curbing underage sales of tobacco and alcohol.
Though some stores violated the law, both operations showed an increase in the number of stores that complied with the law.
"I want to congratulate the merchants who were in compliance," said St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara.
The first undercover operation focused on alcohol sales. Underage volunteer students who were part of the Indian River State College criminal justice program were selected and supervised by a St. Lucie County Resource deputy.
In all, 41 stores were visited by the volunteers, who attempted to purchase alcohol.
"The locations included convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores, bars and restaurants," said Mark Weinberg, public information officer for the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office.
Of those 41 locations, 35 refused to sell to minors, or 86 percent. That is an increase from a similar operation in May 2012, when only 71 percent of the businesses showed compliance.
The six stores that sold to minors were in both Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie. The Fort Pierce stores were: Walgreens at 1603 S. U.S. 1; Mid-Oil Marathon at 1200 W. Midway Road; Sunoco station at 7961 S. U.S. 1; and BP Station at 2802 S. U.S. 1. The Port St. Lucie locations were: Shell station at 7961 S. U.S. 1 and Bayshore Valero station at 702 S.W. Bayshore Blvd.
"The employees of the offending stores were given notices to appear in court for a second-degree misdemeanor," Mr. Weinberg said.
The second operation focused on sales of tobacco products, and also showed an improvement in the number of compliances. Selling tobacco products to those under 18 is illegal.
Of the 60 stores that were checked, 57 didn't sell to minors, a 95 percent compliance rate. A similar operation in May showed only a 73 percent compliance rate.
"A 22 percent increase in compliance shows that retail businesses are getting the message that they must comply with the state tobacco sales law," Sheriff Mascara said.
The three businesses that didn't comply were the Pilot Travel Center at 7300 W. Okeechobee Blvd. in Fort Pierce and the CVS store at 9801 S. U.S. 1 and Westar at 2200 S.E. Walton Road in Port St. Lucie.