Thanks to an employee who went from bad to worse, a Bountiful gas station-convenience store that sold beer to minors on two occasions this year will not lose its beer license.

The City Council could have suspended the beer license of the store, 280 W. 500 South, but decided the store's owner, Hardy Enterprises, was not entirely to blame for the illegal beer sales and was victimized by a former assistant manager.So the council, in a 3-2 vote, decided to give the company a break, allowing it to retain its beer license but warning that any further violations would result in an automatic 30-day suspension of the license.

The issue sharply divided the council. Robert Gramoll and Barbara Holt wanted to allow the company to retain its license with no probation, while Councilman Harold Shafter wanted to suspend the company's beer license for 90 days to send a message that beer sales to minors won't be tolerated in Bountiful.

But the council was persuaded by an attorney for Hardy Enterprises, who pleaded for mercy and found an unlikely ally in City Prosecutor Russell Mahan.

"I agree with Mr. Shafter's philosophy," said Mahan. "But my opinion is the City Council should take into consideration (the employee's) situation or perhaps go another way."

The employee Mahan referred to was the assistant manager who, on July 9, sold beer to an underage police agent. The assistant manager failed to inform his superiors and was later fired for embezzling money, Mahan said.

"Criminal charges are pending against (the employee) so fairness requires that be taken into consideration," Mahan said.

"It's an understatement to say that was not a loyal employee," said George Diumenti, attorney for Hardy Enterprises.

Though saying he makes no excuses for the illegal sales, Diumenti also argued that Hardy Enterprises has acquired a lot of convenience stores in recent years and has been "overwhelmed by all these locations and the number of employees they have." Most of the employees haven't been properly trained in how to deal with alcohol sales, the attorney admitted.

Because the employee in the July 9 violation failed to notify the company of his illegal sale, the company was surprised to learn earlier this month that its license was in jeopardy, even though another employee had been warned on Sept. 25 after another illegal beer sale.

Under the city's liquor enforcement policy, police on a quarterly basis sent underage operatives into every establishment that sells beer. If the establishment gets two violations in three police visits, officials begin proceedings to revoke or suspend its beer license.