|TRENTON –– The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) today announced it has indefinitely suspended the liquor license of Basic Food and Liquor Mart, located in Harrison, for having a criminal disqualified interest in its license dating back to 2005. During the investigation of the store, the ABC found that the criminal interest, owner and operator Sanjaykan “Sonny” Patel, had committed a host of violations, including the sale of alcohol to a 14-year-old girl, which resulted in a three-day hospital stay for the juvenile.
As part of the agreement, Shakti Inc., the trading company that owns the license, will have to sell the license by October 1, 2014. Fifty percent of the sales price will be paid to the ABC as a financial penalty for the violations.
“Here is a prime example of why we do not allow criminals to hold a financial interest in a liquor license,” said Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Michael Halfacre. “By having committed a crime of moral turpitude, Mr. Patel proved himself to be unfit to participate in the alcoholic beverage business. On more than one occasion, he showed shockingly poor judgment by selling alcohol to minors.”
Those who have been convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” are barred from having a financial interest in an alcohol license in New Jersey. In 1994, Patel pled guilty to receiving stolen property; such a crime made him ineligible to hold an interest. However, Patel, 46, acquired a liquor license and began selling alcohol in 2005. In annual ABC administrative filings, he did not disclose his interest in the license, nor his criminal background. His wife was listed as the sole stockholder of Shakti Inc.
Basic Food and Liquor Mart came to the attention of the Division in late 2011 when the mother of a 14-year-old girl alleged Patel had sold her daughter and her 15-year-old friend three cans of Four Loko (since banned in New Jersey) and a bottle of Bacardi rum. After her daughter consumed the alcohol at a local park, she said her daughter suffered from abdominal pain, dizziness and difficulty breathing when she returned home. Police reports also say that the juvenile was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, which required a three-day stay in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
The minor reported to police that this was not the first time she purchased alcohol from the store and that she had not been carded by Patel, who she said warned her: “don’t get caught”.
As a result of the mother’s report, the Division launched an investigation into the business, which yielded charges for the first incident and was the precursor for an ABC operation that caught Patel again selling to multiple underage persons, including a 16-year-old girl. During the course of this investigation, ABC detectives uncovered improprieties in the business’ ownership filings. This led to the discovery of Patel as a criminally disqualified interest.