Thursday, August 5, 2004

State crackdown on fake Social Security numbers hits Spanish-language bartending classes

"On a recent afternoon, three waitresses chatted in a south Nashville Mexican restaurant waiting for an alcohol safety class in Spanish to begin when special agent Michael Cawthon appeared. He asked for their Social Security cards and immigration paperwork."

"After Cawthon's visit to La Terraza restaurant on Nolensville Road, the woman whose documents were confiscated left quickly and a half-dozen other students never showed up for the class, said Veronica Torres, an instructor. Torres works for SPIRITS, one of 10 companies registered with the state to offer five-hour classes required of anyone serving drinks. Torres surmised they heard about or saw the agent in the restaurant, which had no role in the class except as its location. Class attendees work in restaurants and bars around the city, Torres said."

"SPIRITS owner Martha Marston said she has suspended the company's Spanish classes because she feels they are being singled out for enforcement efforts."

"Cawthon was responding to a tip about Torres' classes, [executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission Danielle] Elks said. ABC staff had found that 29 of 30 students in her recent classes had submitted fake Social Security numbers. Neither Torres nor SPIRITS is suspected of any wrongdoing, she said."

"Alcohol permits by the numbers

4,000 bartenders and waiters in the past six months sought permits to serve drinks in Nashville

800 of the applications had fake Social Security numbers

75 sets of fake documents were seized by officials in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis in the past two months

22,000 permits are issued statewide each year"

The Tennessean

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