TAMPA — He looked young and wanted Four Loko.
At two convenience stores, clerks turned the 18-year-old away. At two others, clerks sold him alcohol.
Those two were charged in a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office sting Thursday that included more than 100 stops across the county.
Deputies run undercover operations like this every several months to enforce alcohol laws. This time, they invited reporters. They want clerks and those under 21 to get a message during Spring Break: Underage drinking is illegal, and so is selling alcohol to minors.
"You will get caught," said Cpl. Scott Sitton.
At the Sunoco at 22nd Street and Bearss Avenue, clerk Pamela Bease admitted she sold the young man two Four Lokos. She told deputies he looked like a regular, so she figured he was over 21.
"I can't believe this is happening to me," Bease, 48, said as a deputy wrote a report.
Later, at the Shell station across the street, clerk Aladain Irshaid insisted he checked the young man's driver's license. He said he was on the phone and got confused by the birth date.
"It was a mistake," he said. "I'm very sorry."
Nearby, Joyce Moore, 39, watched the commotion as she pumped gas into her car. She has two teenage children and doesn't want either of them drinking. She said she appreciated the deputies' operation.
"Kids are kids," she said. "If they think they will get away with something, they'll try."
Deputies targeted convenience stores because that's where, they've found, underage people tend to buy alcohol.
By late Thursday, at least 29 people had been charged with selling alcohol to a minor, the Sheriff's Office reported.
The crime is a misdemeanor. Those charged weren't handcuffed or booked into jail. They will have to show up to court, and they face up to six months in prison and a $500 fine.
A majority of clerks turned away the young undercover aides.
At the Marathon station on Livingston Avenue, clerk Carlen Daring, 27, said he cards most people. It's the store's policy, he said, and he turns away two to five people a day.
"The college apartments are across the street," he said. "Everyone's trying to get their buzz on."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.