NEW BERN, N.C. - It took just three and a half hours of testimony for District Court Judge Peter Mack to find that the city of New Bern had no case against Pure Bliss owner Greg Sakas or his clerk Michael Squires, either on the charge of selling a controlled substance - called "Rush," it's actually tape head cleaner that, if sniffed, will give a minor buzz - or of operating more than one adult establishment in a single building - supposedly selling both novelties and adult movies, but North Carolina has no "obscene device" statute - or of operating an adult business without the proper licenses; all Class 3 misdemeanors.
"They were hoping they could win at least one of the three charges, which was the preponderance test," Sakas told AVN. "We're one of the few stores in the state of North Carolina that's operating legally because under the preponderance test, you have to have more general merchandise tapes and magazines than you do the adult. As far as sales, you have to have adult count for less than 50% of your media [DVD/tape/magazine] sales. Well, in court, they flubbed it up so badly - we had information for the entire time we've been in operation, ready to hand that to the judge, showing that our media sales were less than 50% because novelties do not count. With novelties and lingerie, it would have been more than 50%, but only media counts. So they didn't have a leg to stand on."
Judge Mack granted Sakas' attorney Marcus Chesnutt's motion for dismissal immediately after the prosecution had completed putting on its case.
"Any way you look at it, they had a very inept case," Sakas opined, "and I think this is going to help everybody in North Carolina, because I do not believe any city is going to want to fight this right off the bat after what's happened here."
"These were third class misdemeanors, and we were treated like we were major drug dealers," he continued. "We had cops that did surveillance outside the store; they had cops following me in and out of town - because of the fact that Monday, after I got out of my attorney's office, a cop followed me back to the store. It's total harassment."
In a sense, the two raids on Sakas' store - one in May and one in September of 2007 - were tantamount to a Keystone Cops comedy, with the chief detective on the case testifying that he was still in training when the raids were conducted and that he didn't understand the state law completely when he obtained the warrants for the raids - and that the police never consulted the New Bern city attorney or even the police department's own attorney about the law before conducting the raids.
In all, seven New Bern police officers were involved in the investigation and the raids, and each time, they confiscated Sakas' entire stock of videos and novelties, even though no one has ever leveled charges of trafficking in obscene materials against Sakas or the store. In fact, the cops claim they never looked at any of the movies after they were seized - nor did they provide a proper inventory of property seized after either raid.
"They are supposedly going to give all our product back," Sakas explained. "The judge has signed a release order for us to be able to pick our stuff up, but the supervisor at the police department that handles all the contraband, she called me up after we were supposedly set to pick everything up on Wednesday [8/6], and she said they need to postpone till the following Thursday so they can find everything and put it all together."
So, does he suspect that perhaps one or two of the officers maybe did look at some of the movies after all?
"D'ya think?" was Sakas reply.
"I'll sign off that we are receiving our product," he continued, "but I will not sign off that all of it is accurate. We will take an inventory and at that time, we will discuss it with them, or my lawyers will, as to the accuracy of whether they gave back all that was confiscated. All the 'contraband,' as they called it, we are supposedly getting back."
With the criminal charges against Pure Bliss disposed of, Sakas now plans to continue with the federal lawsuit he filed back in April against the city, its police chief and two detectives, charging the defendants with violations of his rights under both North Carolina's Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Among the claims in that suit are that the defendants "improperly and illegally authorized the wholesale seizure of constitutionally protected materials resulting in the suppression of constitutionally protected expression"; that they "imposed an unconstitutional prior and final restraint upon Plaintiffs' freedom to engage in constitutionally protected speech"; that they "willfully, maliciously, and corruptly caused the Plaintiff Greg Sakas to be arrested without probable cause"; and that they should be enjoined from conducting future raids against the store.
"I told my attorney to tell their attorney that I'm not settling for less that $1 million in attorney fees, and we should get damages [[and for] loss of revenue," Sakas said. "I'm at the store right now; I've had three customers all day. People are scared to come in the store. We're making less than $4000 a month, and what they were trying to do was run me out of town, but they didn't do it."
"What has happened now is, I have told them I'm not planning to move," he stated. "They've got me in this town now, regardless. It's not about how much money I'm making or losing - actually, losing - it's the principle of the thing. Most people, after the second raid, would have walked away from it, but I told everybody, there was no way I'm walking away from this. It's killing us financially."
So far, no date has yet been set for a hearing on Sakas lawsuit.