NJ Bars Accused of Booze Fraud, Serving Rubbing Alcohol

New Jersey authorities are investigating 29 establishments for serving customers cheaper booze as a substitute for top-shelf liquor, including one that allegedly offered rubbing alcohol and food coloring as scotch.

"This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits, and it is a slap in the face to the consumer," said state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa in a statement. "Consumers should have the peace of mind of knowing that they will get what they spent their hard-earned money on every single time - no exceptions."

A spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control declined to which establishment served rubbing alcohol, saying it is an ongoing investigation.

Among the 29 licensed bars and restaurants cited for phony booze in the crackdown, dubbed "Operation Swill," are 13 TGI Fridays restaurants throughout New Jersey.

On Tuesday, investigators visited the establishments, inspected the bar areas and seized all opened bottles. About 1,000 bottles were seized and will undergo more testing by investigators and manufacturers. The investigators seized various brands of vodka, gin, rum, scotch, whiskey and tequila. Investigators also took statements from employees and served demands for sales records to the establishments, which have seven days to provide records of the brands of interest.

TGI Fridays issued a statement that said, "TGI Fridays was just 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. We have one of the most extensive bar and beverage programs in the industry, which sets a very high standard in the quality and service of our beverages."

A complete list of the 29 establishments and the alcohol being tested are listed on the State Attorney General's website.

The investigation was sparked by information from confidential informants, consumer complaints and testing of samples.

In January and February, investigators took samples from 63 licensed establishments, some of which had complaints and others chosen at random, and "covertly" took 150 samples. Detectives ordered "neat" drinks with no ice or mixers

According to the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the penalties for serving a drink other than the one ordered range from a five-day suspension for the first offense to a 15-day suspension for the third offense.

A mislabeled bottle of alcohol could have multiple violations based on the potential drinks that could have been poured.

Regulations from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control could also allow for a 30-day suspension for any illegal activity on the licensed premise. Locations could also face a 30-day suspension for not cooperating in the investigation.

(Image credit: Julio Cortez/AP Photo)