By Darrell Todd Maurina
Two Melrose businesses were caught in a tobacco sting operation conducted Tuesday by officers from the Special Investigations Division of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.
According to a press release from Agent D. Ledezma-Pinon, the underage tobacco compliance operation targeted rural areas of Curry, De Baca, and Guadalupe counties.
Ledezma-Pinon said a 17-year-old undercover minor entered and attempted to purchase tobacco from 19 establishments that sell tobacco products. Clerks at 14 stores checked the minor’s identification and refused to sell. Five clerks sold a tobacco product to the minor — four of them sold after checking the minor’s ID and one sold without checking ID or asking any questions.
The clerks were issued criminal citations and face a maximum penalty of $1,000 and 364 days in jail.
Stores checked were in Ranchvale, Melrose, Fort Sumner, Santa Rosa, and Vaughn. In the Clovis News Journal coverage area, only Melrose Tire and Melrose Allsup’s sold tobacco products. The clerk at the Ranchvale Allsup’s did not sell to the undercover minor. In Fort Sumner, clerks at Allsup’s, Diamond Shamrock, The Country Store, and Daves Grocery refused to sell.
Dale Bigler, manager of Melrose Tire, said he and his clerks understand the importance of not selling tobacco to minors.
“It’s just what you’re supposed to do; if people don’t have proper ID we don’t sell to them,” Bigler said. “We always card everybody but the girl who was up there looked at the numbers on the card wrong. It was a mistake on her part.”
Bigler said the clerk is still employed by his store but he isn’t sure whether his clerk would plead guilty or not guilty to the citation.
When contacted, the store manager of the Melrose Allsup’s said all comment on the tobacco sting operation has to come from the corporate office and hung up. Allsup’s corporate management didn’t return a phone call requesting comment Wednesday afternoon.