On May 31, 2008, two men entered Mama’s Fish House in Kuau and walked toward the bar. The bartender recognized one of them as a cop who was also a regular. The cop’s companion sat down at the bar and ordered a Corona. No sooner had the beer been cracked than the cop stepped forward and announced, in effect, “gotcha!”
Another day, another minor decoy sting operation for the Maui County Department of Liquor Control.
Flash forward eight months and the same bartender is seated before the LC Adjudication Board. After his boss confirms a “no contest” plea, he acknowledges that he should have checked the ID of the young patron, who was 18 at the time of sale. “I didn’t do my job,” he says flatly.
But then he raises an interesting point: he saw the guy come in with a cop, a cop who was no stranger to the bar and who he thought was off-duty. Surely a cop wouldn’t bring an underage kid into a bar and let him order a beer.
Look, we’ve been running this column for a few years, and the LC has been doling out its capricious punishment for quite a bit longer than that. Every liquor seller in the county should know the score by now and be on high alert. But still. Every time one of these cases comes up (of the five cases considered at the February 5 Adjudication hearing, all were minor decoy busts) it’s hard not to see it as a pretty blatant form of entrapment, especially in an overgrown small town like Maui where everyone knows everyone and the cops are also customers.
Of course, you know how the story ends. The LC listened to the bartender make his interesting point, smirked and slapped the restaurant with a $2,000 fine, half of it suspended.