Two men were accused Thursday of selling an alcoholic beverage to unlicensed retail stores throughout New Jersey.
Investigators with the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control said they found Extracto de Malta in at least 15 supermarkets and bodegas, mainly in Hispanic neighborhoods. Investigators said it was stocked on shelves among soft drinks and placed next to Malta, which is a carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage.
The ABC accused Condal Distributors of Bronx, N.Y., of putting Extracto de Malta on the streets.
The company's 63-year-old owner, Nelson Fernandez of Bloomfield, was charged with selling an alcoholic beverage without a license. A salesman, 44-year-old Elbio Fanas of Yonkers, N.Y., also was charged.
The state attorney general's office said Thursday a key tip in the case was received in June when NJ Transit discovered one of its bus drivers had been drinking on the job. The driver claimed he hadn't known the beverage was alcoholic. The state said lab tests revealed Extracto de Malta has an alcohol by volume equivalent of a light beer.
"There are many potential dangers here, most notably Extracto de Malta getting into the hands of unknowing children," Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said Thursday.
Fernandez was charged with selling an alcoholic beverage without a license. Fanas was charged with soliciting the sale of alcohol without a license and selling an alcoholic beverage without a license. It was not known if the men had retained attorneys.
The ABC said it would allow stores 10 days to remove the beverage from shelves or face fines up to $1,000 and possible jail time.
The drink was found in supermarkets and bodegas in Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Plainfield, Bridgewater, Garfield, North Bergen and Pennsauken.