They served their country. Then they were served with fines.
For serving ice!
And now a Veterans of Foreign Wars post on 93rd Street is still being hounded by the Health Department for a violation dating back to May 5.
“We appealed the fines in court, but still had to pay late fees,” says Angel Rios, a 79-year-old Korean War vet and current VFW post commander. “We wanted to comply, but they still made us pay.”
The VWF post was cited for violating city Health Code, section 81.15(a), which states: “Food Protection Certificate not held by supervisor of food operations.”
The vets initially argued that they did not need such a certificate since the post doesn’t have a kitchen. However, the 300-member post does operate an ice machine, which requires such certification.
To comply, Rios and a deputy paid $105 each for a five-day training course, just to be certified to dish out ice cubes to dues-paying veterans.
Yet the post’s troubles, according to the vets, still haven’t stopped.
“We went for the training, just to serve ice. We’ve mailed our check to pay the fines. Yet they are still sending us notices to pay,” Rios told The Brooklyn Paper.
Rios also noted that the fines are an undue burden for a non-for-profit organization that exists for the noble purpose of providing vets a place to feel welcome.
“They served their country, they can come in here and have friends. For some, this may be the last place left for them on earth,” added Rios, who is concerned about the overall directions of the Health Department’s crackdown.
“I thought we beat Fascism,” says Rios.
The vets’ cause has even enlisted local bi-partisan support.
“Look, these guys are volunteers who served in Korea, Vietnam — overseas for this country. It is unfortunate that authorities would be unyielding, considering the circumstances here,” said Mike Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party and a Bay Ridge liquor store owner. Long was quick to note that while “the law applies to everyone,” many of the regulations cited are just more examples of an oppressive “nanny-state.”
Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) sent a letter to the Health Department on Nov. 28 asking at least to authorize the removal of the late fees.
“It is a non-profit organization, not a professional bar, and they were unaware of the regulations,” said Gentile spokesperson Kwame Patterson.
“They’ve tried to rectify the situation, and shouldn’t be punished for doing so.”
It’s not the first time that the Health Department has made headlines for dusting off the ol’ rule book to crack down on Brooklyn businesses.
Earlier this year, Moonshine Bar in Red Hook was busted because a bartender inserted a lime into a Corona beer — a time-honored tradition — with his bare hands instead of with tongs, gloves, or some other device.
Unlike limes, though, violations involving ice are “cited upon occasion,” according to a Health Department spokesperson, who was quick to add that “ice machines have been implicated in food-borne illness outbreaks elsewhere in the country.”
Rios doesn’t buy it, but sees the regulation as petty and worse — “discrimination.”
“What about private citizens who buy refrigerators that manufacture ice?” he asked. “Do they need a permit to handle the ice in their own homes?”