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Final: Greg Sakas Case Tossed

New Bern, North Carolina- Judge Peter Mack this morning dismissed New Bern North Carolina’s case against Pure Bliss store owner Greg Sakas.

Sakas was on trial for a third degree misdemeanor. In dismissing the case, Judge Mack said the prosecution failed, on both counts, to prove that Sakas had sold illegal substances in his store and that he failed the state’s preponderance test.

The New Bern Sun Journal offers this report: Charges against the owner and an employee of Pure Bliss, an adult business, were dismissed Monday in Craven County Superior Court.

After hearing 3½ hours of testimony from state witnesses, District Court Judge Peter Mack said the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

The store on Neuse Boulevard in New Bern was raided twice in 2007, in January and September, after a resident complained to New Bern police about the business.

Owner Greg Sakas of Goldsboro and employee Michael Squires were charged with operating more than one adult establishment in the same building. Squires was charged in January and September.

Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Squires was also charged with selling a controlled substance known as “Rush.” That charge was dismissed because Rush is not a controlled substance.

The state did not offer evidence to prove that the store operated more than one adult business under one roof, or that adult sales from the business generated more than 50 percent of the store’s revenue.

A state law makes it illegal to sell more than one kind of “adult” merchandise, such as sex toys and videos, under one roof.

In the front of the store, “regular movies” such as Rambo-type adventures were sold. Behind an electrically operated door to a back section, the store sold what police termed adult movies and videos.

A detective, Marcus Kirk, testified that he got the search warrants from the magistrate to search and seize items from the business. Kirk said he did not understand the state law completely when he got the warrants.

Kirk said he was still in training when the raids were conducted and took his directions from his supervisor, Sgt. Willie Wilcutt of the narcotics and vice division of the Police Department.

Questioned by defense attorney Marcus Chesnutt, Wilcutt said the Police Department never consulted with the New Bern city attorney or the department’s attorney about the state’s adult business law.

More than a thousand DVD’s and videos were taken from the store, but police said they never viewed them for content.

Police said they looked at the cases the DVD’s were coordinated with and saw photographs and titles.

Police never provided any financial documents detailing sales from the business. They provided receipts of a few sales in September, but not a month of sales.

Squires was defended by New Bern lawyer Robert McAfee.

The charges were the lowest class of misdemeanor.

Testimony showed that seven New Bern police officers were involved in the investigation and raid. Some officers stayed outside the store to monitor conversations from a hidden microphone as undercover officers went inside to make purchases.

Chesnutt asked for the dismissal after the state put on evidence.

Chesnutt said none of the police investigators understood what they were looking for. “It’s a nightmare for my client and a nightmare for taxpayers paying for police to investigate this matter,” he said. “The police did not understand the law and it was a misapplication of the law.”

In granting the dismissal, Mack said the state’s evidence was weak with only one clerk who worked once a week at the store testifying.

Mack said the law was complicated, “but it is what it is.” Mack said the state did not show that more items were sold from the back of the store than from the front of the store.

Mack told Sakas after he dismissed the charges that Sakas had experienced the first shot across the bow. “They’re (police) going to look at you and the next time, they will look harder,” the judge said.

Sakas replied: “They’re not going to find anything.”

Sakas said after the ruling that it was a shame it got this far. “It’s bad for the taxpayer and bad for me as a businessman,” he said.

Sakas said he lost thousands of dollars when his merchandise was confiscated and publicity about the store appeared to reduce the number of customers coming.

Sakas will get the merchandise that was confiscated back, but he said he did not know when.

New Bern Police Chief Frank Palombo was in court but was not called to the stand. He said afterward that he had no comment because a lawsuit has been filed against the city.

Sakas is suing the city of New Bern as a result of the raids for violation of the First and Fourth Amendments.

The First Amendment guarantees free speech. The Fourth Amendment guarantees against search and seizures unless there is probable cause.

Sakas’ lawyers filed the suit in state court. The suit will be heard in federal court after the city made a motion for the case to be moved from state court. No date has been set for the case. The suit asks for damages, court fees and lawyers’ fees. It does not specify an amount.


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