Undercover cop at Varsity Liquors makes over 100 arrests in two years| Mar 10, 2015
A Princeton police detective on a plainclothes detail operating outside of Varsity Liquors has made at least 20 arrests of University students and over 100 arrests in total over the past two years, police and court records show.
In just the last two weeks, at least five more students were arrested, as noted in weekly Princeton Police Department press releases. In the past, department officials have noted that the press releases are not a comprehensive lists of arrests, suggesting that even more may have taken place.
An examination of police and court records by The Daily Princetonian showed that in most cases, the detective, Adam Basatemur, observed students walking into the store and followed them as they left. If alcohol was purchased, Basatemur stopped the students and demanded identification.
In one narrative from an arrest made in November 2014, Basatemur wrote that he had made over 100 arrests in the Varsity Liquors area for alcohol-related offenses. Many of these involved Basatemur following the students from Varsity Liquors to a better-lit area — often St. Paul's Church — and asking to search bags and see identification there.
In nearly every case, more than one student was stopped, with either one student above the age of 21 having bought alcohol and another student under 21 holding the alcohol at the time of the arrest, or with one student in possession of false identification and both students in possession of the alcohol.
Arrests were generally made on charges of underage possession of alcohol, serving alcohol to minors and, in cases of false identification, tampering with public records. All three offenses are categorized as disorderly person offenses, which carry a maximum sentence of six months in prison and minimum fines and probationary periods.
Every case examined was dismissed in court, most following payment of fines or completion of community service. Some students were also able to get their records expunged, meaning police narratives are no longer available.
The 'Prince' spoke to several University students who were arrested near Varsity Liquors in the last two years. These students were granted anonymity to freely discuss the subject, as their cases have been dismissed and in some cases expunged.
Arrests were not limited to students. In one case, a 59 year-old man was arrested after being given money by two juveniles to have vodka purchased for them. Two Hun School students were also arrested in November 2014.
Basatemur, who made every arrest considered for this article, has had a rocky career with the Princeton Police Department; though he was named 2005 Princeton Borough Officer of the Year, he was also suspended without pay for two months in 2007 after allegedly forcing a woman he had pulled over for speeding to defecate on the side of the road while he watched. The Borough eventually paid the woman $67,500 to settle her originally multi-million dollar lawsuit.
At a town meet-and-greet, one police officer said there may have been a grant in place to station Basatemur outside of Varsity Liquors.
Town police chief Nick Sutter and public information officer Steven Riccitello declined to comment. Riccitello noted he could not comment on either police operations or whether there is a grant in place to fund the undercover cop.
Varsity Liquors owner Arun Goel did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In February 2014, one University student, who was of legal age, was arrested with a younger friend.
She was buying alcohol for several of her friends, who were also of legal age, she said, and her friend, who was 20 at the time, had come along to help carry the alcohol since she had a stress fracture.
The two were careful during their trip, she said. The younger student had first decided to wait outside but later entered the store and waited near the entrance because it was cold outside.
“That was the first big mistake,” she said.
After making the purchase, the shop clerk warned the two that she had only checked the identification of the 21-year-old and that only she could carry the alcohol.
As the two were walking home, the student said, it became clear that the box was too heavy for her to carry alone. They then took the alcohol out of the box, placed some in each of their backpacks and walked back to the store to return the box.
“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, this undercover cop comes up,” she said. He was wearing a crewneck sweatshirt and a jacket, she said, and she believed he had followed them to the store, waited outside the store and then waited for them to transfer the liquor.
According to police records, the officer stood on the north sidewalk in front of Varsity Liquors and looked through the front window.
“In my opinion, [the students] both looked to be under the legal age of 21 to purchase alcoholic beverages,” Basatemurwrote in his report.
He also wrote that he had followed the two as they switched the liquor from the box to the backpacks but only stopped them when they reached a well-lit area near St. Paul's Church.
The narrative also notes that the student had informed the cop of her injury, and that the student had provided him with the list of friends for whom she was buying the alcohol. However, they were both arrested, the 21-year-old for serving alcohol to a minor, and her friend for underage possession. They were both handcuffed and taken to the station.
The student said the officer told her and her friend, “How do I know you girls aren’t going to go home and get hammered?”
“You can’t just say that to someone, that’s just obnoxious,” the student said. “I managed to control my temper, but I was just looking at him, like, ‘I don’t know what trouble you’re trying to stop, but this isn’t it.’ ”
The student said she was dressed up for Valentine’s Day and believed she looked over 21. Her friend, the 20-year old, also looked slightly older for her age, she said.
“We were two nonviolent females on Valentine’s Day at 8:30 p.m.,” she said.
She made several court appearances and was told that her case would be dismissed once she completed 30 hours of community service. One appearance was on Dean’s Date, she said, and she electronically submitted one of her papers for class from court.
The Department of Public Safety was also notified, and she said she had to go through an alcohol education program at McCosh Health Center. She was placed on first-time disciplinary probation for three months, the same as if she had an alcohol violation on campus. Such probation is noted on the student’s permanent record at the University but is only disclosed in response to inquiries with the student's consent and not on their transcript.
She was also offered the opportunity to expunge her record, which she said would have required an additional $2,000 in legal and court fees, but chose not to, she said.
“The feedback I’ve gotten from employers has not been remotely negative,” she said. “There’s something useful about being able to be open about something.”
When she asked the cop what they could have done differently, she said, she was told that if the 20-year-old had not held the bag, or even if they had both held the bag together, they would not have been arrested.
In one case in November 2014, two students, both age 19, were near the store. Basatemur’s narrative says he noticed the two when they were still across the street, more than a block from the store. He watched one enter the store and, upon his exit, followed the two back for several blocks.
When confronted, the students both admitted that they were 19, the narrative says, and the student who had entered store admitted to buying liquor with a false New York driver’s license.
Their case has since been dismissed, and both students paid $250 in fines.
In another case from October 2014, three students, two of whom were 18 and one who was 17, were spotted by the officer in the alleyway of Varsity Liquors. Another 17-year-old came up to the three and handed one of the 18-year-olds a brown paper bag.
The cop followed the four up to a bus stop about a block away, where he observed the same 17-year-old giving the 18-year-old another 12-pack case of Bud Light beer.
According to the narrative, the 17-year-old told the 18-year-old, “Keep it in this bag [the brown paper bag] if you don’t want it to be seen.”
The group continued to walk up Nassau St. and were confronted by the officer outside of St. Paul’s Church. The 17-year-old handed the cop two forms of identification: one a real New York driver’s license and the other a fake Connecticut license.
Only the 18-year old and the 17-year old who had alcoholic beverages on them were arrested, and the other 18-year old was released since he was not carrying any alcoholic beverages.
A Busy Day
On just one day in May 2013, the detective arrested six University students.
One student who was arrested on that day was 20 at the time and was with a teammate who was over 21. The student has since had her case expunged, so police narratives are no longer available for that case. A press release at the time said the students had been arrested during a pedestrian stop by Basatemur on the 200-block of Nassau St.
The two walked up to Varsity Liquors, but only her teammate entered the store, the student said. Once her teammate exited the store, she offered to carry her backpack for her, which had the three bottles of champagne and a fifth of rum just purchased.
The cop, who was wearing jeans and a button-down shirt, followed the two from the store and then asked to search the backpack, the student said. When asked, the student was upfront about her age.
“I had no fake ID. I didn’t even realize I was going to be in trouble,” she said. “In my mind I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
The two were placed under arrest, the 20-year-old for underage possession and the 21-year-old for providing alcohol to a minor, and were taken to the police station. They later made two court appearances and were told to complete 10 hours of community service each in exchange for the case being dropped.
“On campus itself, [the] legal drinking age isn’t such an issue, but the second you step outside of what is strictly campus, people should be more careful,” she said. “Those were the three most expensive bottles of Andre that I never got to drink.”