Food by VICE

A Huge Amount of Deadly Fake Booze Was Confiscated from Resorts in Mexico

Regulators seized 10,000 gallons of tainted alcohol from a local supplier after raiding dozens of resorts and nightclubs across Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

by Mike Pearl
Aug 15 2017, 7:00pm

A series of recent police raids in Mexican resort towns have turned up stockpiles of low-quality alcohol produced under "bad manufacturing practices," the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. The official discovery of a rash of fake booze may begin to explain why tourists in the area have recently been experiencing adverse—and in at least one case, fatal—reactions to their all-you-can-drink refreshments.

Thirty-one locations in the Mexican cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen were busted in recent weeks, some of which were connected to what the Journal-Sentinel calls a "sketchy manufacturer"—an as-yet unnamed local producer that could be responsible in part for making bar patrons sick. In total, 10,000 gallons of bad booze were seized from that one supplier. While the variety of the seized alcohol remains a mystery, manufacturers of tainted alcohol in other incidents have been known to mix in high levels of poisonous methanol or mixed in cheap sedatives.

Investigators started sniffing around these bottomless beach resorts earlier this year after Abbey Conner, a 20-year-old from Wisconsin, died under mysterious circumstances at the Iberostar Paraíso del Mar resort in Playa del Carmen in January. According to the Journal-Sentinel, she and her brother Austin, 22, were found unconscious in the resort's pool after drinking "four or five tequila shots," followed by a mystery shooter Austin said looked like a Jägerbomb—though he wasn't sure what it actually was. In the hospital, both siblings were found with blood alcohol percentages over 0.20. Austin recovered, but a few days later, Abbey was taken off life support.

The family of the victim, the McGowans of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, at first appeared powerless to get answers about the death. But after their local paper, the Journal-Sentinel, started investigating, the State Department warned tourists heading to Mexico about tainted alcohol in July. A possible explanation not just for the McGowan's case, but for a number of mysterious reported blackouts, which sometimes evolved into robberies and assaults—a phenomenon that had even started to show up on Yelp reviews of these resorts.

"There have been allegations that consumption of tainted or substandard alcohol has resulted in illness or blacking out," the State Department said, followed by an admonition to drink in moderation. But Mexican bootleggers have done swift business making high-octane spirits like raicilla, the notorious black sheep in the family of spirits made of agave, which also includes tequila and mezcal. A recent survey found that as much as 36 percent of Mexico's alcohol may be illegally produced.

Regulators confiscated sketchy alcohol from dozens of resorts, hotels, and nightclubs in both tourist towns—including the lobby bar of the Iberostar Paraíso del Mar resort where Abbey Conner was staying. Mexican authorities have since suspended operations at the hotel bar.

"This is awesome; this is huge," Conner's mother told the Journal-Sentinel in response to the crackdown. "There is obviously stuff going on that needs to be cleaned up and looked into further."

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

Update 8/17: The original photo was replaced to a photo of alcohol to replace a photo of a resort in Mexico.