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Martinez businessman charged in illegal alcohol operation

Some of the firearms seized from the Martinez home of Sterling Hartwell Albert, charged with possessing a still, selling alcoholic beverages without a license, and possession of illegal and unregistered firearms. (MELANIE WOODROW / Twitter)
Some of the firearms seized from the Martinez home of Sterling Hartwell Albert, charged with possessing a still, selling alcoholic beverages without a license, and possession of illegal and unregistered firearms. (MELANIE WOODROW / Twitter)

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

A months-long investigation of an illegal alcohol operation at a Concord business led to the arrest of a Martinez businessman and the confiscation of more than 40 illegal unregistered firearms as well as two stills, John Carr, spokesperson for the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), Sacramento, said Friday.

Among the weapons seized from the man’s home were assault rifles, grenade launchers and gun silencers, Carr said.

Agents confiscated more than 200 gallons of illegal distilled spirits and 500 cases of illegally-produced wine from the Concord site, he said. The address has been known as Sterling Albert Winery and more recently Mt. Diablo Winery and Custom Crush.

Illegal still seized in Concord. (CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL-SACRAMENTO)
Illegal still seized in Concord. (CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL-SACRAMENTO)
“In recent months, ABC had been investigating a storefront located at 5052 Forni Drive, Suite C, Concord, after receiving a complaint that distilled spirits – rum and whiskey – were being manufactured and sold illegally at the property,” Carr said Friday in announcing the result of the raid.

“The possession of unregistered stills and the production of distilled spirits without a federal permit and without payment of tax are federal felony offenses which may result in the seizure and forfeiture of land and other property associated with the illegal activity,” Carr said. “Illegal stills are potentially explosive and can pose a significant threat to public safety. A distilled spirit made illegally may also not be safe to consume.”

ABC agents responded to the complaint and began conducting the probe. They obtained search warrants for both the Concord store and its owner’s home in Martinez, he said.

“At the residence, ABC found multiple illegal firearms including a grenade launcher, fully-automatic assault rifles and silencers,” Carr said. “The firearms were seized and turned over to the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms Task Force.”

Carr said his department was aided in executing the search warrants by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Team, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms Task Force.

Carr identified the store owner, who was placed under arrest, as Sterling Hartwell Albert, 53, of Martinez, described in earlier interviews as a longtime Contra Costa County winemaker. He was taken into custody during the search of the business, and was booked into Contra Costa County Jail, Martinez.

He faces a felony charge of possessing a still and a misdemeanor charge of selling alcoholic beverages without a license as well as multiple felony charges related to possessing illegal and unregistered firearms, Carr said.

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