Alcohol delivery vendor stems sales to minors

An alcohol delivery service provided by Woody’s Liquors in Somerville has this year bolstered its identification requirements for customers, according to the store’s management, hoping to cut off what had become a relatively common illicit source of alcohol for underage students on campus.

Woody’s delivery service provides near door-to-door delivery of alcohol orders placed over the phone by customers.

Numerous anecdotal accounts show that the delivery system last year provided a relatively popular, albeit under wraps, means of obtaining alcohol for minors. Several students attested that the delivery driver either did not check IDs or accepted cards that unmistakably were not forms of identification.

One sophomore, who purchased alcohol through Woody’s delivery service several times last year as a freshman, said that she gave the driver her CharlieCard when he asked for identification.

“They kind of just looked for anything shaped like an ID,” the student said.

All students quoted in this article asked to remain anonymous due to the illegal nature of the activity.

Two other now-sophomores, both of whom ordered liquor from Woody’s last year while underage, agreed that ID checks at the time of delivery were spurious at best.

“Half the time they carded me, half the time they didn’t,” said one of the sophomores, who estimated ordering alcohol from the vendor between five and 10 times. When asked for identification, she offered the driver a fake ID.

“He just looked at it really quickly,” she said.

Another student told the driver that she did not have an ID. In response, the driver simply raised the price.

“He said there’s an extra fee for not having an ID,” she said, “But he still sold it to me.”

A Woody’s manager, who declined to give out her full name on the grounds that she did not want to be associated with any illicit activity, denied any sale of alcohol to underage customers through the delivery service.

“We’ve never sold to underage [students],” she told the Daily. “We never had a problem, never had an instance of selling to an underage at Tufts.”

Upon hearing of these individual accounts of sales of alcohol to minors, the manager attributed any negligence to a former delivery driver who had not adequately checked IDs.  Woody’s management fired the individual last winter, she said, but for reasons unrelated to the ID issue, including general poor employee conduct.

“There’s a lot more to it that I found out about him,” she said. “We don’t need employees like that working here.”


The run-up to more stringent enforcement

The illicit dealings came to a head last December when members of Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) observed a Woody’s alcohol delivery in progress. Officers saw a student, who turned out to be underage, approach the car of a Woody’s delivery driver, the Daily reported in December. When the officers approached the scene, the driver told them he did not sell the alcohol to the student because the individual did not have proper identification.

Woody’s drivers are permitted to deliver products to Tufts students on university grounds, similar to other types of food delivery vendors, as long as the student provides a full address, according to the manager. She said that drivers typically are not allowed to deliver products to dorms, whose residents are mostly underage.

Since the officers did not witness an alcohol transaction take place during the December incident, they were unable to take legal action, according to TUPD Sgt. Robert McCarthy. Even so, TUPD contacted Somerville Police Department (SPD) at the time, warning them that the vendor was selling alcohol to underage students.

The Woody’s manager said that following the incident, a TUPD officer also visited the vendor’s establishment, located on Broadway Avenue in Somerville, to discuss the identification issue. This marked the first time, she said, that Woody’s management staff learned that one of their drivers was not checking identification.

TUPD Sgt. Joseph Tilton said that it was normal after an episode like the one observed in December for an officer to visit the establishment and speak with its owners or management.

Upon meeting with the officer, Woody’s decided to implement an enhanced system for checking IDs, one that the manager said would put an end to the potential for any sales to minors. 

“It’s all done and over with,” she said. “It will never happen again.”

Woody’s delivery drivers — three are currently on staff — must check two forms of ID during every sale, according to the manager. This can include a Tufts ID for students but must also include a driver’s license or another form of identification, she said.

For transactions that take place in the actual establishment, employees use a type of scanning machine to check IDs to make sure they are not fake, she added.


Effective deterrence

The new rules have proven relatively successful, according to several police and student accounts. A number of anecdotal accounts show that students are more wary of using the delivery service this year than last.

One sophomore said that she was deterred from ordering alcohol this year based on rumors she heard that TUPD was more vigilantly watching Woody’s delivery transactions.

“I heard that someone got busted using it. TUPD was watching the whole time,” she said. “It just didn’t seem worth it.”

A freshman similarly said that fears of being caught by TUPD led her to decide against using the service. She explained that ordering a delivery to South Hall, which largely houses freshmen, could attract officers to the scene.

“I seriously considered calling, but I decided against it because I was forewarned by other students,” she said. “It might come off as suspicious.”

Tilton said that TUPD had neither heard of any recent incidents involving Woody’s nor observed any alcohol sales on campus since the incident in December.


Checking for compliance

Somerville Police Chief Michael Cabral and Somerville Police Officer Warren Chaille — the license investigator for Somerville’s Licensing Commission — told the Daily that SPD had not had any issues with the vendor or heard any complaints regarding its delivery service. Somerville officers, he said, visited the store this year to discuss the ID issue.

“We spoke to the owners to make sure that they would card people when they make deliveries,” Chaille said.

Woody’s Somerville establishment has also passed several city-wide compliance checks.

The city-sponsored group Somerville Cares About Prevention (SCAP), in conjunction with SPD, runs biannual alcohol vendor compliance checks, during which minors, under the guidance of SCAP officials and the police, attempt to purchase alcohol in Somerville’s liquor stores.

Only two of 43 liquor stores in Somerville sold alcohol to minors during compliance checks in the spring, according to SCAP Director Cory Mashburn. In a separate round of checks this fall, SCAP found zero violations among a slightly bigger pool of Somerville alcohol vendors, Mashburn told the Daily.

He confirmed that Woody’s Broadway Avenue establishment was not one of the two violators in the spring. Still, he called Woody’s delivery service highly unusual and said that SCAP currently has no compliance checks in place for this type of alcohol vending.

“It’s the first store I’ve ever heard of that delivers liquor,” he said.

Mashburn said that he learned of Woody’s delivery system over the summer and notified SPD to try to implement a set of compliance checks for the system. He anticipated such a check would be in place by this spring at the earliest.

The state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission in conjunction with SPD, however, does have the capacity for delivery service compliance checks, according to Chaille. They this summer organized so-called “stings” for the few alcohol delivery services that exist in Somerville. Chaille said that Woody’s likely was part of the compliance checks, but he was unsure about the results.

Both Cabral and Mashburn agreed that Woody’s delivery system could lend itself to more underage sales than regular storefronts.

“I think it’s a very dangerous thing to have and that’s why we’re looking into it,” Mashburn said.