WSAZ Investigates: Black Market Liquor

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SOUTH POINT, Ohio (WSAZ) -- There's a new trend serving up trouble in Ohio, and investigators are working to give it a last call.

Investigators say they have seen several secondary liquor sales in the Buckeye State.

Secondary, liquor sales often take place through websites like Facebook and Craigslist. Most of the time it starts by someone going to another state and finding a hard-to-find liquor, coming back to their state and selling it, often at a marked-up price.

"We seen secondary sales as high as in the thousands of dollars for one bottle of spirituous liquor," said Michelle Thourot with the Ohio Investigative Unit.

Thourot adds there are significant health risks for buying alcohol from someone that is not a credible and licensed liquor store.

"It's very concerning for us because of the safety for our people," Thourot said. "You don't know what you're getting."

Sellers can easily alter the product by putting harmful things in the booze.

In December, five people were charged for illegally selling liquor. One was from South Point.

Investigators say Gerald Osborne, 52, was charged with illegal sale of intoxicating liquor, illegal possession of intoxicating liquor, and illegal transportation of intoxicating liquor.

Court records show Osborne was caught selling 13 bottles of spirituous liquor in a store parking lot, for $1,000.

Spirituous liquor is defined as alcohol with a high alcohol content of 21 percent and up.

Because these are not licensed sellers and are doing their dealings through social media, investigators say it makes it easier for teenagers to get a hold of the booze, which is even more concerning mixed with the hidden possible health dangers.

"When you're not buying from an authorized source, absolutely people are not checking IDs when they're meeting you to go purchase alcohol. It could be an opportunity for underage people, which is very concerning," Thourot said.

Officials say the problem may not be as prevalent in Kentucky and West Virginia, because the states don't have as strict policies and limitations that Ohio has.

Bob Ackerman, owner of Leo's Carry Out in South Point, says he has a hard time getting popular or high-demand products in to his store because of limits say by the Ohio Liquor Control.

Ackerman says since these cases have popped up, especially with one being local, liquor control has been in touch to tell him about the problem.

However as a store, there's not much one can do. They obviously can't foresee what someone's intentions are after buying alcohol. Officials with Ohio Liquor Control say the biggest help a store, or anyone, can do is report any suspicious activity. That's how investigators heard about these recent cases.

“Secondary sales are a no-win situation. They hurt the small businesses that sell these products legally and put consumers at risk,” OHLQ Superintendent Jim Canepa said. “Consumers are susceptible to both counterfeit or tampered with products. We’re grateful the Ohio Investigative Unit takes these cases seriously to keep our market fair and consumers safe.”

If convicted of illegally selling intoxicating liquor without a permit, a person could receive the maximum 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Investigators say Osborne may also face another maximum 210 days in jail and a $1,250 fine for the additional charges.

The Ohio Investigative Unit says they will continue to work with Liquor Control to investigate secondary market liquor sales. If you know of anyone selling alcohol illegally, contact OIU at #677.

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