An Edgecombe County jury found Richard Conoley Chapman, 66, and Kwana Spruill, 37, guilty in Edgecombe County Superior court on Wednesday for operating an illegal Internet Cafe. The case stems from the duo's district court appeal in July where they were also found guilty on the same charges.
The verdicts could become controversial due to several Internet Cafes, which are also called Sweepstakes Cafes, that continue to operate in Edgecombe County as well as throughout some portions of the state. Sweepstakes owners have been fighting to legalize the business for several months. Last December, the court of appeals upheld a state law that banned the businesses.
"I think the jury rendered the law as it is written," said Tarboro Police Chief Damon Williams. "We put together a case that showed that they were in clear violation of the law."
Chapman, the owner of Past Times Internet Cafe and Spruill, the manager of the establishment, were charged by the Tarboro police on April 15 during a raid of the establishment on St. Andrew Street. The officers confiscated money and equipment from the establisment.
Prior to the raid, Tarboro police warned the owner on several occasions that the business was in violation of North Carolina law. The written warning also went out to three other Internet Cafe businesses in town. Those three business closed without confrontations. Past Times reportedly closed, but then reopened.
At least three other internet cafe businesses outside the Tarboro city limits received the same written warning. They closed without incident. However, five outside of the city limits, are currently in operation including two that have reopened.
Licenses to operate any business must be approved by the governing body of the town in which the business will be operated in. Edgecombe County was responsible for issuing business licenses for the five sweepstakes businesses in the county.
Since April, Williams said at least five sweepstakes owners have inquired about opening in his jurisdiction. He denied their requests with a harsh warning.
"I told them if they come here, we will prosecute," Williams said. "I hope that my department's case will set a precedent to ban other sweepstakes businesses in the county and the state."
Wednesday's case may be an indication that Williams will stand by his words. Chapman was sentenced to 45 days in Edgecombe County Detention Center, suspended for 36 months of unsupervised probation, pay cost of court and a $200 fine.
Spruell was sentenced to 45 days, which was suspended for 12 months of unsupervised probation, and pay the cost of court.
The judge ordered the money confiscated from the raid to be placed in Edgecombe County's general fund where it will be used by Edgecombe County Public Schools. The computers were turned over to the owner.
Gwenette Mills, an employee of the business, was also charged and convicted in district court. However, a clerk at the Edgecombe County Clerk of Court office said there was no documents showing that she was on trial in Superior Court.