Fake IDs sneak back into town
Local drinking establishments prepare for the college onslaught

The infamous Sixth Street Liquors counter of shame displays the latest victims of the store’s
zero tolerance fake ID policy. Owner John Munn says he expects to net one to two fake IDS a
week with school back in session./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

With the arrival of a new Fort Lewis College school year, students are streaming back to class and – much to the chagrin of educators, administrators and parents everywhere – back into the bars. And while liquor-selling establishments welcome the annual arrival of some of their best customers, the influx also signals the arrival of an annual problem: fake IDs.

“We always see an influx when school starts or the semester begins,” said Chip Lile, co-owner of El Rancho Tavern, a perennial Main Ave. favorite among the late-night drinking crowd. “We see everything from kids who make fake ones to kids using someone else’s.”

Durango Police Sgt. Doug Embree said although the use of fake IDs is not a huge problem in Durango, it is one that is persistent. However, he noted that gone are the days of underground, amateur dorm room operations involving Polaroids and poster boards. Thanks to modern technology such as holograms and new laminating techniques, identification cards are becoming harder to manufacture, he said.

“With the new IDs, it’s a lot harder to make a fake one look more real,” he said. Nevertheless, technology is a two-lane super-highway, he noted. “You know how it is – there’s always people who can do it, or at least try to do it.”

In fact, “Debbie,” an underage second-year Fort Lewis College student who did not want her real name used for obvious reasons, said the use of fake IDs is commonplace among her peers.

“I have a real license that’s not me, but most of my friends have fake ones that work most of the time at the bars,” she said.

It is the latter that poses the biggest problem in detection for establishments.

“With graphics programs today, some are really good,” said Aaron Sinberg, co-owner and bartender at Lady Falconburgh’s. “That’s when it gets difficult.”

Nevertheless, bar and liquor store owners say they are up to the challenge, employing everything from scare tactics and zero tolerance policies to employee incentives to weed out the fakes.

John Munn, owner of Sixth Street Liquors on College Drive, said he employs a number of tactics, including the always-effective threat of public humiliation. Sixth Street is home to the infamous counter of shame, a shrine to fake IDs that have been confiscated over the years. According to Munn, the counter was started by a former employee a few years back, and the IDs on display represent only a fraction of the ones the store has nabbed.

“We have a whole box of them downstairs, the ones that are displayed are just the most current ones,” he said. “It’s part of the game that they play, so we play the game, too.”

Munn, who said he sees an unusually large number of fakes likely because he is the only downtown liquor store that sells kegs, said he takes a hardline approach to the issue.

“We confiscate them if we think they’re fake,” he said, adding that the approach has earned him a reputation as the toughest liquor store in town, something corroborated by “Debbie.”

“Sixth Street Liquors always takes IDs,” she noted.

Sinberg, at Lady Falconburgh’s, said his establishment makes it a policy to card everyone who looks younger than 30. He also said the bar has a book detailing every state’s ID for questionable cases, and when in doubt, he asks for multiple forms of identification.

“That way, when they open up a wallet full of stuff and say they have no back up, I know it’s a fake,” he said, adding that this often spells the end for the possessor’s night out.

“If it’s fake, and we know it, we’ll cut it up and throw it away,” he said.

At El Rancho, employees are given an incentive for confiscating fake IDs, said owner Lile. And although Lile would rather not disclose the amount, he said the program is quite successful.

“We’re known as the bar in town where you get your fake ID taken,” he said. “We have bouncers every night who make good money at it.”

A similar approach is taken a few blocks away at Wagon Wheel Liquors, according to manager John Leonard. He said the store’s owner has implemented an incentive program for employees who confiscate fake IDs.

“We were told, ‘Don’t mess around,’ by the boss,” he said, adding that the incentive program seems to be effective.

“Ted has the most because he hates kids,” said Leonard of a fellow co-worker.

And while to the average college kid this may seem vindictive, Leonard points out that there is more at stake than someone’s Saturday night out – namely financial hardship or ruin for the business

“They do send the sting around,” he said of local police. “And if you sell to a minor and lose your liquor license for a few days, it can be a trainwreck.”

Despite all the tactics, bar and liquor store owners say occasionally they will encounter a belligerent individual who refuses to give up his or her hard-earned ticket to beerdom.

“If they throw a fit, we tell them we need to call the police, and they usually leave when we reach for the phone,” he said.

Nevertheless, there are always a few stalwarts who don’t succumb to the threat of police involvement, noted Lile.

“Some ride it out and try to B.S. the cops,” he said.

However, this may not always be the best approach. City Prosecutor Bill Corbin said that possessing a false ID is punishable by 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both, although such instances are extremely rare. In fact, Corbin noted that in his nine years as city prosecutor he has yet to see a single case go in front of a judge.

“My guess is they plead guilty,” he said, adding that such cases often carry a $100 fine.

However, both the perpetrators and the confiscators say they don’t like to see the situation get to this point.

Debbie, our FLC informant, said a good dose of reprimand and embarassment is all it takes for her to steer clear of an establishment.

“Once I got busted trying to buy beer and they gave my ID back but wouldn’t let me buy,” she said. “I felt pretty stupid.”

By the same token, bar owners say they try to handle such situations as humanely as possible.

“We try to abide by the laws set forth by the state, but we don’t want to make it some sort of witch hunt,” said Sinberg. “We always try to be respectful to our customers and try to keep them happy, after all, they’ll be 21 some time.”

Lile also noted that although he won’t hand back fake IDs, he will hand back some dignity as well as a little friendly advice.

“We just tell them to come back when they’re 21,” he said. “We tell them we were all under age once too, and so we know all the tricks.”







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