Watchdog: 367 Mich. liquor licenses suspended since 2007

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- The B.O.B. reopened for business Monday after serving a 10-day liquor license suspension for serving an intoxicated patron who later fell to his death.

Suspensions are more common than you might think; since 2007, Michigan's Liquor Control Commission has suspended liquor licenses at 367 businesses statewide for an average of seven days.

Topless dancing, illegal gambling and bootleg egg nog: they're among more than 18,000 violations handled by the state since 2007. Nineteen bars had their liquor license yanked.

The Liquor Control Commission has collected more than $4.3 million in fines between Jan. 1, 2007 and May, 31, 2014, often from businesses that sold alcohol to minors.

RELATED: The B.O.B. reopens after liquor license suspension

Since last year, 186 violations have been issued in Kent County. Eleven bars, including the B.O.B., were cited for serving intoxicated patrons. Of those, a bar in Sand Lake had a suspension for five days and a Wyoming bar got a two-day suspension. The others paid fines of between $600 and $1,400.

There are nearly 800 active liquor licenses in Kent County covering bars, party stores, pharmacies and Big Box outlets. Suspensions are rare; businesses often pay fines in lieu of having a license yanked for two weeks or two months.

Selling beer to minors is the most common violation, accounting for nearly half of all violations locally. Police make compliance checks using decoys between the ages of 17 and 20. In some cases, they're given fake IDs. Violators are given an option: pay a fine or have your license suspended. Fines of up to $1,000 are given to businesses that don't check IDs. Businesses that check IDs and still make a sale are usually fined $500 or less.

Michigan in 2001 started requiring alcohol safety training for employees who serve drinks. Those who don't complete training, or don't document successful training completion, face stiff fines or the loss of their license. Twelve Kent County bars have been cited for training violations since last year.

Citations are mostly for 29 common code violations. In Kent County, violations included selling Natural Lite beer as Bud Light, running millionaires parties without a license, allowing fights on premises and turning a blind eye to drug use.

The owner of four Mexican-themed bars in Kent County was fined after a conviction for impaired driving. A popular downtown establishment got a $100 fine for being over-capacity by 200 people over St. Patrick's Day weekend. Another got in trouble for letting someone bring eggnog into the bar.

A national pharmacy chain got in trouble when one of its Grand Rapids stores sold Arrow apricot brandy for a price other than the amount set by the LCC.

A Walker bar was hit with a $1,274 fine for allowing topless entertainment without a permit and letting non-employees hang around after 2:30 a.m. It had its license placed in escrow until the fine was paid.

Passing bad checks is a common offense. Bars write a check to the LCC when liquor is delivered, but sometimes they don't have money to cover the amount. That happened on 50 occasions in Kent County over a 17-month period. An upscale downtown Grand Rapids restaurant was slapped with five non-sufficient fund violations between June and September, 2013.

In addition to having to make good on $3,200 in bad checks, it was ordered to pay a $500 fine or face a 25-day suspension. The restaurant now has to use money orders or cashier's checks when buying liquor ; no personal checks accepted for six months.


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