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N.J. Bar Accused Of Substituting Rubbing Alcohol For Premium Liquor

Dozens Of Garden State Establishments Raided In 'Operation Swill'

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Was that really a Jack and Coke you had in New Jersey? It might not have been, but authorities in the Garden State are working to do something about it.

As CBSNewYork.com reported on Wednesday, 29 establishments were recently raided for switching out premium liquor with cheap stuff, part of what the state Attorney General’s Office called “Operation Swill.”

As many as 1,000 bottles of liquor and funnels were confiscated from the establishments after the undercover operation by Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) detectives, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan and WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported.

One establishment was even accused of using what’s described as “river water.”

“I didn’t even think it was actual tap water. Another one we believe was rubbing alcohol and caramel color [which was used to make it look like whiskey],” said New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa on Thursday.

He wouldn’t say which establishment was accused of using rubbing alcohol.

“I don’t think we have any information that we have any health consequences as a result of it, thankfully,” he said, noting that it is, however, quite dangerous.

ABC Director Michael Halfacre told WCBS 880’s Putney that this is an ongoing investigation and they’re working with liquor brand manufacturers.

“Which indicated to us that drink substitution is a major problem for the industry,” he said.

Chiesa’s office said investigators took samples out of establishments and used what is called a “true spirit authenticator,” a new technology out of Great Britain that has the brand of the alcohol programmed into it, CBS 2’s Sloan reported.

No criminal charges have been filed, but liquor licenses could be revoked, which is a big deal in New Jersey since the number of licenses is limited.

The 29 places accused were out of 63 investigated so far. That’s 46 percent.

“It’s a concern and it’s why we took the action that we did,” Chiesa said, adding the establishments were focused on increasing profits. “And it is a slap in the face of the consumer.”

Of the accused, 13 are TGI Fridays restaurants.

“TGI Fridays was made aware of this issue and is working closely with the franchisee and owner of the cited locations to review and investigate these serious allegations,” a spokesman said in a statement.

Jeff Cioletti, the editor of Beverage World Magazine, told CBS 2’s Sloan that a true indicator of whether the customer is being duped or not is that good vodka is easy to swallow.

“Smoother feeling on your throat when you’re swallowing it. The cheaper stuff is a little rougher around the edges. You get more of the burn,” Cioletti said.

Cioletti said the easiest drinks to be fooled on are mixed drinks like cosmos, but investigators said they will be hitting more bars and restaurants to make sure the public is not duped.

As reported Wednesday, here is the list of establishments accused.

- Applebee’s, Kearny
– Bells Tavern, Lambertville
– Blackthorn Restaurant, Parsippany
– The Brick House, Wyckoff
– Brunswick Grove, East Brunswick
– Café 34, Matawan
– Cucina Calandara, Fairfield
– Graziano’s Ristorante, Cheslihurst
– Italian Affair, Glassboro
– Murray’s, Dover
– Railroad Café, East Rutherford
– Ruby Tuesday, Bridgewater
– Sona Thirteen, Morristown
– Sunset Tavern, Burlington
– TGI Fridays, Clifton
– TGI Fridays, East Hanover
– TGI Fridays, East Windsor
– TGI Fridays, Freehold Township
– TGI Fridays, Hamilton
– TGI Fridays, Hazlet
– TGI Fridays, Linden
– TGI Fridays, Marlboro
– TGI Fridays, North Brunswick
– TGI Fridays, Old Bridge
– TGI Fridays, Piscataway
– TGI Fridays, Springfield
– TGI Friday’s, West Orange
– Villari’s Lakeside, Gloucester Township
– Yesterdays, Marmora

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