The owner of an amusement company was found not guilty Monday of charges that he manufactured and possessed slot machines.
Greg Muse, 52, of New Bern, owner of Craven Music Company, was exonerated of 15 counts of manufacturing or selling slot machines and one count of possessing a slot machine.
Judge Walter Mills made the ruling on Monday based on three-days of testimony during a trial that began with hearings in March.
“I am never trying to do anything outside the law,” Muse said after the ruling. “Over the years, I have tried to adapt my operation to be in compliance with the law. Nobody wants to fight the DA (district attorney), the police, the sheriff’s office. I have been in constant contact with them.”
Havelock police raided seven Havelock area businesses on Oct. 17, 2013, seizing 300 items of evidence that included 16 computerized gaming machines that they said were being operated in violation of state laws. Authorities said at the time that the raids were as a result of an 11-month investigation.
Subsequently, Muse, along with seven other people, mostly owners of convenience stores, a private club and pool hall, and a bingo establishment in which machines were located, were arrested and charged with possessing or operating slot machines.
At issue in the case was whether skill was required to operate the machines. Games of chance could be deemed illegal but a game in which skill is required could be determined to be legal. Also at issue was that the city of Havelock had issued licenses for $500 per machine for the operation of the machines in local businesses.
Muse’s case began March 21 and continued with testimony on April 24 and then on July 16. Muse, who was represented by attorneys Marc Chesnutt and Gary Clemmons, never took the stand in his own defense.
“I’m glad that the justice system served everyone in this matter well,” Chesnutt said.
Assistant District Attorney Robert McAfee argued for the state that the machines were games of chance. He presented evidence using video and testimony from undercover police officers as well as testimony from a police informant.
Neither McAfee nor anyone from the district attorney’s office could be reached for comment.
Havelock Police Chief G. Wayne Cyrus said he had not had a chance to discuss the verdict with the district attorney’s office and didn’t know the reason behind the not guilty verdict.
Muse said Monday that the cost of his defense was high, though he did not provide a specific amount.
“It cost a very large amount to fight, but I don’t know how you put a dollar amount on the embarrassment to my family and to me and our business,” he said.
Muse said he went to Havelock City Hall on Monday to seek a refund of the $500 business license fee for the machines but was denied.
“It’s kind of a railroad deal, especially since I paid the license days before they picked the machines up,” Muse said. “If these things are illegal, why are they continually issuing licenses? It’s been almost a year now that they have been shut down, and they don’t even want to consider giving a refund.”
Muse said he felt the other business owners and managers charged in the case should also be found not guilty.
“The locations that had our equipment, I feel confident that they’ll come up with the same outcome,” Muse said.
He said he had worked with authorities to guarantee his machines were legal.
“Everybody down here is wanting to get their equipment back and go back into business,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen with that. I hope we can get the machines, equipment and money, and everything back.”
Muse said he is still operating machines in other areas and doesn’t have a problem.
“I don’t know how they could label them as a slot machine. It seemed like a drastic move to me,” Muse said. “It’s just bad that a town would go to this extreme. It’s amazing that they look at this as a major crime.”
Muse, who is running for Craven County commissioner, said he hopes it doesn’t affect his candidacy.
“I’m starting my campaign tonight,” he said Monday. “A large, dark cloud is lifted with this verdict.”
Halifax Media Services reporter Sue Book of the Sun Journal contributed to this story.