COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Maury County Sheriff’s Department has a powerful message for all store clerks in the county; if you sell vapes or alcohol to minors, plan to go to jail.
With passion in his heart, Sheriff Bucky Rowland told News 2 that young people are the future, which is why his department is aggressively targeting merchants who sell vapes and alcohol illegally to children.
To illustrate his point, Rowland dumped two five-gallon buckets filled with vapes. The sheriff said all of it was confiscated from Maury County schools in recent months. Some of the vapes were even taken from elementary students.
“You know, we talk about epidemics and all that. This is absolutely something targeting our youth it is out of control,” Rowland said.
To combat the sale of vapes and alcohol to minors, undercover agents with the sheriff’s department spent the last three months targeting stores across the county.
Investigators say most of the county’s stores were in compliance, but others were blatant for their alleged disregard for the law.
One of those stores that sold multiple times according to agents is the M&M Market on South Main Street in Columbia.
News 2 obtained undercover video that shows a 17-year-old girl working with agents. She entered the market, pulled a 12-pack from the cooler, and then asked the clerk for a vape.
She handed the clerk, Mina Fayez Lewiz, $40.
In the video, you see the clerk laugh, then ask the girl how she knew the two items would cost exactly $40.
On tape, the girl says, “I just know.”
Lt. Brian Cook of the Narcotics and Vice Unit says, agents initially watched obviously young people leave the stores with alcohol. They then stopped those teens who said that teens know to go there to buy alcohol and vapes because money talks.
“$20 is all you need to get your alcohol there,” Cook said. “And I tried to get that explained, and they said, $20, that is your I.D. You give them a $20 bill and you can walk out with a 12-pack of beer, no matter what kind it was. So, then we asked about the vapes, and they said — same thing.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, agents went to Columbia Discount Tobacco and Beer a few blocks away.
Agents told News 2, that the clerk, Ezat Atef Abdelmalak, also sold vapes and beer to a 17-year-old girl working with undercover agents.
Andy Cordan: “So, you know this is wrong right?”
Clerk: “Yeah I know because this is my work, it’s my job.”
Cordan: “So how do you feel about this? The cops are here, they are shutting down your place, and you are accused of selling to kids who are driving around with beer. I mean, the whole thing is bad.”
Clerk: “Yeah, it’s bad. You know it is bad.”
Within minutes, the clerk was in handcuffs and on his way to jail
Clerk: “This is my problem, it is my mistake.”
“This is an epidemic we are dealing with every day,” said Maury County SRO Lt. Kyle Cheek.
Cheek says students smoke in school, even flushing vapes down the toilets. He also says students are smoking vapes and don’t even know what they are ingesting.
“We tested one that is 78% THC levels and the legal limits for CBD is .03. So, these kids are taking stuff and they have no idea what is in the vapes. We are taking kids to the hospital who are passing out in our school system,” Cheek said.
The sheriff of Maury County urges lawmakers to make the fines more serious for selling vapes and alcohol to underage juveniles.
“It’s a $50 fine to any merchant who goes out and sells this to our youth, and you can’t tell me they are not targeting and trying to attract our youth with bubble gum and candy flavors and
all that and it’s time something is done about that,” Rowland said.
All in all, Maury County authorities have arrest warrants for seven clerks who will be charged with four counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor as well as underage selling of vapes and alcohol.