|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Director Michael Halfacre today announced that the Briad Group, a franchisee of the T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants in New Jersey raided in May as part of “Operation Swill,” will pay a fine of $500,000 and not contest charges that eight of its restaurants were serving customers alcoholic beverages other than what they ordered.
“Briad’s restaurants were scamming customers by serving them a cheap substitute for what they ordered,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This unlawful practice took advantage of consumers who were cheated out of what they thought they were purchasing. This fine should send a clear message to every bar and restaurant throughout New Jersey that customers should get what they pay for every time without exception.”
ABC and Division of Criminal Justice Investigators raided 13 T.G.I. Friday’s owned by Briad during “Operation Swill” and seized approximately 250 bottles of spirits from those locations. Eight of those establishments were charged and included in the settlement. Those locations were in West Orange, East Windsor, Old Bridge, Piscataway, Freehold, Marlboro, Hazlet and Linden.
As part of the settlement, Briad will employ an ABC-appointed monitor through June 30, 2014. The compliance officer will have the full cooperation of Briad’s restaurants and its employees as well as access to all books, records, compensation programs and any other information the monitor deems appropriate. The compliance officer will then report his findings to the ABC. In addition, Briad will make internal changes that include updating employee training and inventory software.
Briad will pay the ABC $400,000 for its violations plus $100,000 for investigative costs. In addition, a five-day suspension for each establishment will be held in abeyance until June 30, 2014; those days will be dismissed if there are no further drink-substituting charges.
“Drink substitution threatens the integrity of the alcoholic beverage industry, and retailers, wholesalers and customers all lose because of this illegal activity,” said Halfacre. “The financial penalty imposed on Briad should serve as a deterrent to licensees, and we are optimistic that the corrective actions taken by Briad will prevent any further deceptive practices.”
In May, more than 100 ABC and Division of Criminal Justice Investigators raided 29 licensed establishments in New Jersey in “Operation Swill.” An ABC investigation had revealed that these 29 establishments were allegedly engaging in a practice of filling premium brand bottles with non-premium brands in an effort to deceive the customer and increase their profits. The customer paid for the premium brand, but was instead, unbeknownst to the customer, poured the non-premium brand. Investigators visited the establishments, inspected the bar areas and seized all opened bottles of 20 brands of spirits that included vodka, gin, rum, scotch, whiskey and tequila. Approximately 1,000 bottles were confiscated during the enforcement action.
The operation focused on 29 establishments because of information from confidential informants, consumer complaints and testing of samples conducted by both the ABC and the manufacturers of the brands. The samples were taken in January and February when ABC investigators visited 63 licensed establishments across the state and covertly took 150 samples. The undercover ABC detectives visited these establishments and secured samples of premium brand spirits by paying for drinks ordered “neat” – that is with no ice or mixer. Some of the locations visited had previous complaints against them, and some were chosen at random.
The investigation remains ongoing with respect to the other establishments targeted in “Operation Swill.”
The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has a toll-free hotline for citizens to report illegal activity to ABC’s Investigative Unit. Anyone with information on illegal activity is encouraged to call 1-866-713-8392. All information received via the ABC hotline will remain confidential.