Part One: The Past

01-11-2019 – Jersey City, NJ

SafeProof.org was created by concerned consumers and is maintained by anonymous and visible contributors. That is the statement that readers see at the bottom of the SafeProof.org website which has now been live since early 2017. The true beginnings go back to a March evening in 2013.

The creator of SafeProof.org was enjoying a night cap close to home at Cucina Calandra in Fairfield, NJ, a well rated Italian Restaurant with a bar after another long day on the road visiting clients. He ordered a straight double shot of his favorite scotch as he became engulfed in the TV news. Taking a sip from the highball glass that contained two shots of scotch, he thought the smell was off, and the taste different than usual. He chalked it off to a long day of work, left the unfinished drink on the bar, paid the $15 tab and headed home.

On the afternoon of May 23, 2013 while waiting to meet a client for a late lunch, he was reading NJ.COM. There was a featured story with the headline, Operation Swill: N.J. officials charge 29 bars with selling cheap liquor as premium. The story was more than intriguing because he regularly entertained clients at restaurants where most ordered alcoholic beverages.

Operation Swill Liquor Enforcement SafeProof
Operation Swill Liquor Enforcement New Jersey in 2013

The NJ Attorney General announced that after a yearlong investigation by over 100 investigators, 29 establishments were raided throughout the State for various alcohol sale violations. Most of the charges leveled against the 29 named establishments suggested that they were engaged in the practice of substituting premium alcoholic beverage brands with non-premium brands. Among the listed violators was Cucina Calandra in Fairfield, NJ.

The Press Conference announcing Operation Swill at the Offices of the NJ Attorney General had evidence displayed that included funnels, along with various liquor bottles from the cheapest brand names to the most expensive. Other charges leveled in Operation Swill were that the establishments were refilling liquor bottles, watering down liquor and in one case making fake liquor by mixing rubbing alcohol with food coloring.

The list of charged establishments released by the Attorney General was a who’s who of 5 star rated New Jersey Restaurants, popular business meeting spots as well as well-known national chains including Applebee’s and TGI Fridays.

TGI Fridays released a statement after being charged that read in part, “We have one of the most extensive bar and beverage programs in the industry, which sets a very high standard in the quality and service of our beverages.” If after just being charged with alcohol sales fraud, TGI Fridays tells consumers that they have a “high standard” it leaves one to wonder exactly how low their standards are really. What about other liquor being served in all forms of retail locations from Clubs, Bars, Saloons, Bowling Alleys, Race Tracks, Private Clubs, Catering Halls, Hotels, Resorts and Country Clubs, can it be trusted.

Looking down the list of 29 accused establishments the Founder of SafeProof.org noticed that he had visited 18 of the 29 mentioned in the last two years. He began to search for other violations by these establishments as well as others that he frequented and soon realized it wasn’t easy.

In the age of instant information, it was impossible to find a searchable database of liquor law violations. As the research continued it was easy to understand why.

Since the repeal of Prohibition, the United States has utilized a three-tier system of alcohol distribution. The three tiers are producers, distributors and retailers. Producers which include brewers, wine makers, distillers and importers can only sell to distributors. The distributors can only sell to retailers, who are the only tier that may sell to consumers.

Many States decided to become one or all the three tiers. Some States control retail distribution by operating State-owned liquor stores. The three tiers in every State are the same whether they are owned by the State or privately. The only State that does not adhere to the three-tier system by law is Washington State, although in practice the system is still in place.

The three-tier system was the best way to regulate the industry, insure the safety of consumers and most importantly for the States a way to collect taxes. The distribution and sale of alcohol became a revenue source for many layers of government. Towns, cities, counties and states began selling liquor licenses with renewal fees collected annually. Along with the liquor licenses came enforcement which included fines, another source of income for governmental jurisdiction.

Alcohol Prohibition
Prohibition in the USA was from 1920 ending on December 5, 1933

As alcohol sales produced revenue streams for governments, enforcement became fragmented. Everyone is aware that the Federal Government has an agency called, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), most people think that they are the primary enforcers of the alcohol trade. However, alcohol enforcement is performed by many different agencies. Most States have established an Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) division or a similarly named board or commission to oversee the regulation of alcohol sales and consumption.

Some States have specifically designated law enforcement agents to police alcohol enforcement while others depend on State police, officers from the attorney generals’ offices or local police to perform enforcement tasks. This leads to a decentralized list of violators, violations and enforcement actions which makes it almost impossible for consumers to see if their favorite liquor retailer has been charged with liquor violations.

SafeProof Past, Present and Future - This is Part One. #SafeProof #DrinkSafe Click to Tweet

The original idea of SafeProof.org was that it would be a centralized database of liquor law violators listed State by State. Truly living up to the proverb, that was easier said than done, not only did each jurisdiction maintain their own database of alcohol enforcement actions, many were not public, could only be searched by a license number or a Freedom of Information Request was required.

The original idea of a SafeProof.org database that would aggregate 50 State databases, publicly displaying the information for consumers soon turned into sourcing hundreds of databases across the Country. Not only does each State have a different method of enforcement, some have multiple layers. It is not uncommon for a retail alcohol establishment to be policed by a State ABC, a County ABC and a Municipal ABC, all separate and distinct entities that maintain their own records.

The SafeProof.org database soon became a multiple person search effort, first finding the various enforcement agencies, then determining if their database is public, filing FOI requests that did not require a fee for information that was not public. Even with a full-time person assigned to searching for liquor law violations in the US, it is a daunting task and after three years SafeProof.org is not close to offering a comprehensive database to retail consumers.

Report Adulterated Alcohol
Report Fake Alcohol Tips to SafeProof.org Tip Line

The work continued by putting in place a toll-free number where consumers and others could report alcohol violations worldwide. SafeProof.org is then able to access our database of enforcement agencies and report the tip to the proper authorities.

Searching for worldwide databases was even more daunting. Discovering once again that many countries did not have a centralized database, a centralized enforcement agency or even similar enforcement agencies. Excise Tax collection is the most utilized enforcement tool used by Countries around the world.

When searching these agencies for alcohol violations by retailers, a much more alarming story began to emerge. The Excise Tax Enforcement Agencies around the world were not only reporting tax fraud they were reporting a preponderance of stories about fake alcohol being produced in homes, factories, on farms, in the backrooms of pub and more.

Stories of death, blindness, damaged health were prevalent and sometimes were in waves from single batches of a counterfeit alcohol. As the collection of stories mounted, SafeProof.org hired a writer to aggregate these news stories from around the world.

On March 1, 2017 the first story of alcohol fraud, relating to counterfeit alcohol was published under the Alcohol News heading. Also added along the way were cornerstone articles about Alcohol Abuse under a heading by that name. These articles address such topics as Binge Drinking and Drunk Driving.

The simple task of building a database has created a website and organization that has become a clearing house for information about Fake, Tainted or Counterfeit Alcohol.

SafeProof.org is a consumer advocacy group, funded through donations from concerned individuals, industry groups and alcohol brands. The goal of SafeProof.org is to raise awareness about the prevalence of counterfeit alcohol throughout the world. Our Alcohol Articles highlight alcohol related stories using worldwide news outlets and official government sources. Report any illicit alcohol activity to us using our secure form or by calling 1 (833) SAFE-TIP To get the latest Alcohol Alerts and violation updates in your area Sign-up for SafeProof.org emails and follow us on Twitter @SafeProof also on Instagram @SafeProof