The 20-year-old student waited nervously in line at The Aquarium, a popular bar on Sixth Street, clutching her fake ID. Letting her hair down and avoiding eye contact with the bouncer, she answered a few questions about her false date of birth. It was not long before the bouncer, an undercover officer from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, told her to step aside and started asking questions about her real identity.
This student from St. Edward’s University, who asked to remain anonymous, was one of nearly 100 minors who have been accused of carrying fake IDs on Austin’s busiest party street.
She was issued a fine of $300, a six-hour alcohol course and eight hours of community service.
Law enforcement is increasingly using undercover operations to catch underage drinkers using fake IDs, and the penalties can be severe.
According to the TABC website, the use of fake IDs to misrepresent one’s age or to buy an alcoholic beverage is a violation of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.
Harry Nanos, captain of the Austin TABC enforcement division, said that the state agency has carried two undercover operations since December. Agents look for minors using fake IDs and charge them with a Class C misdemeanor for Misrepresentation of Age.
“We do a program here in Austin called Operation Fake Out. Our agents work with the clubs, being undercover at the door waiting for people to present ID’s. When they do, they’ll find some ID’s that are fictitious,” Nanos said. “We then issue a citation and they have to answer to it in a municipal court that hears Class C violations.”
Nanos said the TABC has worked alongside local law enforcement, including the Austin Police Department, to carry out these operations.
Maya Risner, a sophomore at Texas Tech University, had an encounter with undercover agents from APD at Love Goat, a bar on Guadalupe Street.
“Me and my friends went inside but with an ‘x’ in our hands as a sign for bartenders to not give us any drinks. The bartender told us to wash the ‘x’ off and added he had a really bad memory, as a sign for us to order shots. We washed them off, took the shots, and went outside,” Risner said. “Next thing I know, we are talking to two officers telling us that an undercover cop was inside watching us take the shots.”
They had to go to court, pay a $250 fine, do eight hours of community service and take a two-day alcohol awareness class.
“I think we were unjustly charged. It felt like entrapment because the bartender told us to do it and probably knew that there was an undercover cop inside,” Risner said.
Nanos disagreed on calling these operations as “entrapments.
“If you’re presenting an ID that you know is not true, then you make that choice. If it humiliates you to get caught with a fake ID that you know isn’t true, I’m sorry,” Nanos said, “but we’re there to keep our minors safe and to get them home safe.”
The St. Edward’s University student, however, did not find the approach to be effective in avoiding underage drinking in Austin.
“From what I’ve heard, these undercover agents only make appearances every couple of months, and just happen to catch a few unlucky college kids who were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “If the government really wants to prevent underage drinking, they should crack down on the bouncers who keep letting in people without legitimate IDs.”
Nanos said these operations will be done in a regular basis, and commented on the success that Operation Fake Out had since December.
“In just these two last operations, we were able to get our hands on nearly 100 IDs that were fictitious. I think it’s successful because it’s nearly 100 persons that would consume being underage and quite possibly getting themselves in trouble later,” Nanos said.
The TABC official declined to give information about upcoming undercover operations.