By David Madden, Todd Quinones
TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) – The State of New Jersey is looking into more than two dozen bars and restaurants statewide that officials believe tried to pass off non-premium liquor as the good stuff.
The culmination of the year-long probe, dubbed “Operation Swill,” brought more than 100 agents of the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control (“ABC”) agency calling on the 29 establishments. Product was seized and records demanded, but no charges have yet been filed.
Ten of the businesses are part of a national chain, and five South Jersey restaurants and bars were raided – in Burlington, Chesilhurst, Gloucester Township, Glassboro, and Marmora.
It’s alleged the businesses poured the inferior hooch into branded, labeled bottles and pocketed the profits.
“I would believe that certain establishments would probably stoop to that, but places like Villari’s and a lot of these top places around here, they wouldn’t do that,” customer Carl D’Argenzio said.
The owner of Italian Affair in Glassboro had no comment, but a loyal customer finds the allegations about the restaurant hard to believe.
“I want to see the proof. You can accuse somebody of anything. Right now I don’t see it,” customer Sam Flamma said.
The Sunset Tavern in Burlington is also on the list to the surprise of some customers.
“I really haven’t tasted anything out of the ordinary, but who’s to know,” customer Rasheeda Jones said.
The AG’s office contends the investigation was the result of citizens complaints, confidential informants and new technology used to test samples.
A lawyer representing Villari’s says his client hasn’t been charged and he denies the allegations.
The following establishments were targeted in Operation Swill:
Railroad Café, East Rutherford
The Brick House, Wycoff
Sunset Tavern, Burlington
Graziano’s Ristorante, Chesilhurst
Villari’s Lakeside, Gloucester Township
TGI Fridays, West Orange
Italian Affair, Glassboro
Bells Tavern, Lambertville
TGI Fridays, East Windsor
Brunswick Grove, East Brunswick
TGI Fridays, Old Bridge
TGI Fridays, North Brunswick
TGI Fridays, Piscataway
TGI Fridays, Freehold
TGI Fridays, Marlboro
TGI Fridays, Hazlet
TGI Fridays, East Hanover
Sona Thirteen, Morristown
Blackthorn Restaurant, Parsippany
Ruby Tuesday, Bridgewater
TGI Fridays, Linden
Café 34, Matawan
Cucina Calandara, Fairfield
TGI Fridays, Woodridge
TGI Fridays, Springfield
TGI Fridays, Clifton