October 17, 2008

Dear Friends:

I wondered what they had found as the agents, covered with dirt, spider webs, and dead bugs, dragged old dirty plastic barrels stuffed with rolls of copper tubing out from under the run-down house a mile and a half south of the Alabama state line. The yard was littered with trash including broken-down boats, motorcycles, and animal cages, and the pitbulls barked unceasingly as they tugged at their chains trying to defend against us, the intruders, not caring that we were armed with a search warrant signed by a local judge.

In a few minutes, the agents showed me that what I was looking at were the condensers of at least two moonshine stills—the rest of the stills, the cooking pots, thermometers, hygrometers, empty bags of sugar, canoe paddles for stirring the mash, emerged in pieces from around the property where they had been stashed to avoid detection. Inside the house the agents found a number of weapons.

Since the division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco has its roots in enforcing prohibition-era beverage control laws involving illegal production of moonshine, busting a still in the woods was, in a sense, a step back into the history of our agency and something that we don't often come across in this day and age of alcohol being available in ever corner convenience store. In this instance, the still operator was placed under arrest, and the stills were confiscated, capping the end of an operation which involved one of our agents operating undercover to learn the location of the still.

The next night I accompanied another group of agents as they made their rounds performing "surveys," which is their term for compliance checks at retail beverage sales locations. The evening consisted primarily of visits to convenience stores which held beer and wine retail sales licenses. We had with us a group of college-age young people—all less than 21—who were volunteering to go into the retail establishments, using their actual driver's licenses to attempt to buy alcohol. The store clerks and business operators who sold to the minors were charged with a criminal offense.

Times have changed, and ABT has moved pretty far from its still-busting, bootlegger-chasing roots. Now, performing surveys is a regular part of an agents work life - along with making inventory checks, inspections for illegal activity in bars, and a host of administrative and paperwork functions. Some of the activities are cool and interesting, some are tedious, but our guys continually conduct themselves with professionalism and dignity.

The day-to-day work now may be a bit less dramatic than the still-busting action of times past, but as I watched them work, I thought of the day recently when my daughter called to tell me that a young male friend had died. This friend had been the teenage driver in an alcohol-caused crash that had taken the life of another teen. My daughter's friend had been confined to a wheelchair for the last third of his short life, and I realized that keeping alcohol out of the hands of teens to prevent such tragedies is the reason that these men and women spend nights and evenings away from home while the rest of us are with our families.

Sincerely,

Charlie Liem, Chief of Staff

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ABT agentsSearching for illegal moonshine

Agents with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco execute a search warrant for illegal production of moonshine near Graceville.

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