SMYRNA — Illegal alcohol sales recently reached another dimension, state investigators claimed last week.
According to the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, two Smyrna residents were arrested after alleged Facebook-orchestrated sales of a $10 mixed beverage slushie delivered to online patrons.
“This was different in the way it was advertised,” division Director John Yeomans said. “I don’t know if we’ve had one like this.
“Usually, sellers will keep things close to the vest ... these were out there in the open to the point we asked ourselves ‘Is this really happening?’ “
Authorities said further investigation found that it was — a man allegedly posted on his personal Facebook page that he was selling drinks, which typically drew anywhere from five to 10 orders.
According to authorities, the illegal brew was a 16-ounce mix with four shots of vodka, water, ice, Kool-aid and sugar.
“they are sweet and strong and will sneak up on u ....” touted a posted Facebook advertisement with photo that was released by DATE when issuing a news release regarding the arrests on June 10.
“these are sitting in the cooler ice cold ... delivering in dover until 8 pm”
In another sales push on Facebook, an unidentified man with an alias of “Joseph Jackson” allegedly was shown holding up a concoction in a glass in front of a vehicle authorities said was used to deliver the illegal product.
“Still got 4 slushie mixed beverages $10 or 3 for $25 I’m in Dover wit base hmu” the post read.
Uncovering the alleged seller’s true identity was problematic, DATE said, but a document or certificate pictured in a Facebook post brought some clarity.
On the day that a DATE undercover officer purchased illegal alcohol, authorities alleged that a defendant claimed “I got 60 orders going.”
According to authorities, the alleged seller’s live-in girlfriend was helped produce the drink in their household.
State investigators said they couldn’t determine how large the alleged operation was. Authorities said alcohol allegedly was advertised through Facebook group pages.
“He wasn’t short on customers,” Director Yeomans said.
Also, the other defendant allegedly advertised on her Facebook page, which she only recently made private, DATE said.
Dover PD’s tip
The Dover Police Department contacted DATE on May 27 regarding a post made to a Facebook group page “Selling Stuff in Delaware” four days earlier, authorities said. An agent immediately was assigned to the case.
DATE said the “Selling Stuff in Delaware” page is a “closed group” and requires a request to join.
“Typically in about an hour you have been accepted and now you can read posts and make your own posts,” said DATE spokesman Lt. Kevin Jones, noting last week that the page claimed to have more than 9,000 members.
Despite the unique nature of Facebook involvement, DATE said it was well prepared to deal with the social media nature of the investigation.
“With the rise in popularity of social media over the past 10 years, ATE has seen a steady increase in the cases involving social media sites,” Lt. Jones said.
“The agent assigned to the case was trained in Internet investigation at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.”
In this case, DATE said, Facebook was the only social media channel used.
Director Yeomans said illegal alcohol sales undercut legitimate business owners, which have earned licenses and train servers to distribute spirits properly.
With an illegal operation, also, profit is the chief concern, not regulation of underage sales, potency of drink, sale to already inebriated customers and other issues, Director Yeomans said.
This alleged case involved store-bought vodka, and did not include the rare crime of “moonshining” that includes producing homemade alcohol, authorities said.
“We do not get that many cases of (moonshining),” Lt. Jones said.
“We have had a couple of cases where individuals had obtained equipment to manufacture distilled spirits and were not licensed to do so. We really do not see many cases of that.”
Regarding store-bought alcohol later sold privately, Director Yeomans said, “We do have a share of complaints that people are selling drinks out of their homes and establishments are selling without a license.”
Other issues found
When the arrests were made without incident — assisted by the Smyrna Police Department — a defendant also was found to have an outstanding traffic warrant, authorities said.
“He was arraigned on that warrant at the same time he was arraigned on the bootlegging charges,” said Lt. Jones, noting that the processing and arraignments were conducted at the Smyrna Police Department.
Buyers, mostly from the Dover area, appeared to be of all ages, male and female, authorities said. However, there was no evidence of sales to underage patrons during the investigation.
One defendant was employed, authorities said, and the other reported he was not working.
DATE gave a thankful nod to Dover Police for reporting its findings of the alleged enterprise.
“Dover PD brought the matter to our attention,” Lt. Jones said.
“Open communication between the two departments was key to the success of this investigation.”
The probe included both online investigation and surveillance operations, DATE said.
The investigation culminated on June 10 with a search warrant execution at 9 E. Commerce St., Apt. l, authorities said, along with a vehicle allegedly used to deliver alcohol to customers.
Charges included selling alcoholic beverages without a license, storing alcoholic beverages in a residence with the intent to sell and illegal transportation of alcoholic beverages.
Authorities said the alleged offenses could bring up to three months of incarceration if prosecuted.
After arraignment, the defendants were released pending a future court appearance.
DATE said the Department of Health sent the defendants a cease and desist order.
DATE is staffed with 17 police officers (including director, deputy director and two lieutenants who oversee shifts) and two civilian employees.
Single agents are assigned to the Division of Gaming Enforcement, Delaware State Police’s Violent Crimes Reduction Team and the section that trains people throughout the state in responsible alcohol service.
All told, 10 agents routinely work investigations around the state, Lt. Jones said.
In some way or form DATE-like operations have been going since 1933.
The enforcement agency now is separated from the Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control commission that hears cases regarding administrative alcohol violations against licensees.