Former Seekonk Selectman John Whelan, whose legal and personal issues have been publicized in the media, faces a new problem with an allegation that he sold alcohol to a minor.
The allegation was made public at this week's Board of Selectmen meeting during a liquor license violation hearing for Country Liquors, where Whelan works.
Police Chief Ronald Charron told the board that a 15-year-old female from Barrington, referred to as "JF," purchased alcohol in February at Country Liquors while Whelan was working the register. The allegation eventually came to the attention of the Seekonk Police Department.
JF told Seekonk Detective Charles Mello that she never presented or was asked for an ID, Charron said. He said she also told the detective she purchased alcohol from the store while Whelan was working there four or five other times.
"Detective Mello noted that JF looks 15 and acted like a 15-year-old girl, and it was hard for Detective Mello to believe she would be mistaken for a 21-year-old female," Charron said.
The next month, JF took part in a sting operation in which she purchased a 12-pack of Budweiser from Country Liquors while Whelan was on duty, Charron said. The police chief said after the transaction was completed, detectives walked into the store and informed Whelan that he would be charged with selling alcohol to a person under 21. The former selectman is expected to appear in court next month.
If it were determined Whelan knowingly sold alcohol to a minor, he could face a fine of up to $2,000 and be sentenced to up to one year in custody. However, a legal expert told Attleboro-Seekonk Patch that it is unlikely a person would receive the maximum penalty in this situation.
When asked about the allegation, Whelan told Attleboro-Seekonk Patch, "Without speaking to ownership, I have to say no comment."
The nine-year selectman, who chose not to run this year for re-election, appeared in court in February following his arrest for allegedly shoving his wife with whom he is going through a divorce. He pleaded innocent to a charge of assault and battery domestic.
Whelan has not publicly addressed the alleged incident. He said at his final selectmen meeting last week, "There have been a lot of lies said about me lately and I will be vindicated."
At this week’s hearing, the selectmen voted 4-1 to suspend Country Liquors' license for five days starting on Monday. Also, employees must take training in how to avoid selling alcohol to minors. The police chief and town attorney Jeffrey Blake recommended the five-day suspension. The decision can be appealed to the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Commission.
Store owner George Collias told the board that the incident did happen and that Whelan received a "severe reprimand," but was not fired. He called Whelan a "strong employee."
The dissenting vote for the five-day suspension came from Selectman Francis Cavaco, who noted that Sam's Food Store was given a 60-day suspension in 2007 for two violations of selling alcohol to a minor. He said the selectmen should be consistent.
"What we're looking at here is a 15-year-old child … the only thing the business is interested in … is the dollar," Cavaco said.
He continued, "If this board accepts a five-day suspension, we are sending the wrong message to this community."
Selectman Bob McLintock said he agreed with Cavaco about the seriousness of the situation, but he said a lengthy suspension would be more severe for Country Liquors than it was for Sam’s. Unlike Sam's, nearly all Country Liquors' sales are for alcohol.
"I, like other people, don't want to put [Collias] out of business," McLintock said. "He made a mistake. Hopefully, he'll learn from that mistake."
He later turned to Collias, and said, "If you ever come back here for anything while I'm sitting here, you're in deep trouble. Believe me when I tell you that."