A James City man will have to wait until April 24 to hear whether he will stand trial on multiple charges that he manufactured or sold illegal slot machines to businesses in Havelock.
Gregory Dean Muse, owner of Craven Music Company, is charged with 15 counts of manufacturing or selling slot machines and one charge of possessing a slot machine.
Muse was charged in November, 2013 following an 11-month investigation by the Havelock Police Department and the Craven County Sheriff’s Office. On Oct. 17, 2013, police executed search warrants of seven Havelock businesses, and seized more than 300 pieces of evidence, including 16 Internet gaming machines.
On Friday, 16 five-foot-tall gaming machines were scattered about Courtroom 5 at the Craven County Courthouse in New Bern where attorneys for Muse made a motion to dismiss all charges, arguing entrapment by estoppel.
Judge Walter Mills found that opening arguments by defense attorney Gary Clemmons and assistant district attorney Robert McAfee to have disputes on factual statements and asked for testimony.
Muse’s other attorney, Mark Chestnut, called Havelock City Clerk Cindy Morgan, who testified that the city had received privilege licenses for the operation of Internet sweepstakes machines from Muse and others in 2013. The fee was $500 per machine.
Muse testified that he paid the fees after he spoke informally with Havelock Commissioner Danny Walsh, who, he testified, had told him that it would be alright to operate the machines.
Muse testified that he never spoke with his attorney to see if operation of the machines was legal, but did speak with Craven County Sheriff Jerry Monette regarding the issue. Muse said he relied on Monette’s opinion before he paid the licenses.
“I believed that there were legal,” Muse said, but admitted “He said he couldn’t interpret the law.”
Havelock Police investigator Chris Morning testified that he traveled to Fayetteville to consult with members of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office regarding the legality of gambling machines. Further consultations were held with the state attorney general’s office and the local district attorney regarding how to respond after a N.C. State Supreme Court ruling that made certain gaming machines illegal.
“We came back with what we had learned and decided to begin a criminal investigation,” Morning said.
Chestnut asked if Morning then went to machine operators to warn them that they ought to pull the machines out.
“I was told to my face ‘Charge me and let’s find out what happens in court,” Morning said.
Havelock Chief of Police G. Wayne Cyrus said that after the state Supreme Court ruling, a letter was sent to all of the establishments in the city where the machines were being operated that changes in the legality of the machines could be around the corner.
“We wanted to let people know what the ruling was and give them an opportunity to comply. At the time I wrote the letter we were looking for voluntary compliance,” Cyrus testified. “It was a warning.”
Cyrus testified that “there was a lot of ambiguity across the state at that time” regarding the legality of the machines.
Defense witnesses Sherry Kralik and Betsy Lowery, both sweepstakes workers whose businesses had machines confiscated, testified that Havelock Commissioner Danny Walsh informed them before a June 24, 2013 Havelock board meeting that they could open up for business.
“He told us to go ahead and open,” Kralik testified. “He said the city of Havelock would not shut us down, that it would be the state.”
The state’s single witness was Walsh, who testified that he told Kralik and Lowery that “based on the parameters of that which we were discussing, that it wasn’t our decision to make and based on that they could go back in business.”
“I said my opinion is that you can open up, but let me take you back to the city manager (Jim Freeman) to explain it],” Walsh testified. “I remember that both Jim and I said that if anybody’s going to shut them down, it would be the state.”
Walsh testified that Muse “came to my business five or six times talking to me about it.” Walsh said he told Muse that “I’m the one guy on your side” explaining that he had voted to keep the license fee at $500 per machine instead of the proposed $2,000 per machine.
Clemmons argued that Muse had the reasonable assurance and reasonable reliance because of Walsh and City Manager Jim Freeman that it would be legal to operate, so Muse paid the license fee, but just months later, found himself charged with criminal offenses.
McAfee called the motion ridiculous.. “He always carried the warning that the Chief of Police for years felt that these machines were illegal. He had every opportunity to consult with counsel to determine his risk of putting these machines in.”
Mills said he would issue his ruling on April 24. “I’m going to read this law. I’m going to read the pleadings and then I will make a decision. I’ll do the best I can,” Mills said.
The ruling could have a bearing on the cases of eight others who face similar charges in the investigation.