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Club's late night meetings are defended
By DAVID KARP
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 22, 2000
TAMPA -- The prosecutors smiled, and lawyers watching in the courtroom couldn't help but snicker a little.
Elias Abusaid, a high school dropout with a felony record, was acting as his own lawyer before Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich on Wednesday. Wearing a doubled-breasted black suit, he would object, interrupt, and make short speeches.
But by the end of the two-hour hearing, Abusaid was the one grinning.
The president of the AV-02 bottled water company, which authorities say operates as an illegal rave club in Carrollwood, had successfully beaten back an attempt to put him in jail. Prosecutors wanted Judge Heinrich to revoke Abusaid's bail on a misdemeanor charge of operating a rave club without a license, which carries a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.
"I'm just not doing that," the judge told prosecutors.
Assistant State Attorney Dean Tsourakis asked Heinrich to jail Abusaid under a new state law that allows defendants to be held without bail if they pose a threat to the community.
But prosecutors failed to show how Abusaid, 37, posed a threat under the law. A sheriff's sergeant testified that he knew of drug sales at the club at 5226 Gunn Highway in Carrollwood. But under cross-examination, Sgt. John Herring acknowledged that he had seen drug sales at other businesses, too.
"It's probably no different in terms of drugs than any other nightclub," Heinrich said.
During his testimony, Abusaid argued that his club -- which opens at 3 a.m. -- was holding meetings for investors who buy $10 shares in the AV-02 water company, which sells a private label bottled by the Micropack Corp. in Zephyrhills.
Only shareholders can attend the meetings, although any "sophisticated" person can purchase a share at the door.
"Sounds like a cover charge," Heinrich said.
At the meetings, which run until 7 a.m., shareholders meet to discuss the stock's worth and chat about other business issues, Abusaid said.
"Hundreds and hundreds of Tampa's elite are shareholders of this company," he said.
Shareholders get a note with the picture of a buxom women in a bikini on it.
Abusaid put a legal notice in Sunday's Times announcing the shareholder meetings and the sale of up to $1.5-million in shares. He also applied for a state trademark and private club and retail sales licenses from the county.
As the judge took a recess, Abusaid was busy selling his product. He sold two cases of water for $6.75 each to the courthouse snack shop Wednesday.
Records show Abusaid has been convicted of six felonies, including aggravated battery, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of drugs. He has sued the Sheriff's Office over one of his arrests (the case was dismissed), and sought an injunction for violence against a woman who worked at the Mons Venus nude dance club with the stage name "Solar Suzy." (The injunction was denied.)
Raised in Wimauma, Abusaid dropped out of East Bay High School and worked as a block mason before opening his water business and club, he said. He also worked in security at the Amphitheater in Ybor City and sold health food to adult dancers at Mons Venus, according to club owner Joe Redner.
Abusaid said Wednesday he was a millionaire and drove a Lexus. However, in December he signed court papers claiming he was indigent and earned a net income of $229 a week.
Either way, Abusaid said his company's finances don't look good if authorities continue to try to close his club. His investors' shares, he said, are plummeting.
The financial outlook will even be grimmer after Heinrich's ruling Wednesday. The judge told Abusaid that he could run his business as long as he provided prosecutors with a list of all shareholders. Authorities also can check his club randomly to make sure no outsiders get inside.
Prosecutors were satisfied.
"I think our objective was to get him to comply with the ordinance, and that objective was achieved," said Tsourakis, the prosecutor.
Even so, Abusaid was walking proudly inside the courthouse Wednesday. Abusaid even got a compliment from the court. "You did a pretty good job for not being an attorney," Heinrich said.
Times staff writers Melanie Ave and Graham Brink, and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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