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Jury convicts illegal club owner

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It was source of complaints in East Williston residential area

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Eugene Donald Jr. was found guilty of one felony count operating an unlicensed nightclub in an East Williston residential neighborhood by a Levy County jury on Wednesday and will be sentenced on Wednesday, Sept. 3, after the Levy County's Sheriff's Office takes the opportunity to make an impact statement.

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He was also convicted on a misdemeanor count of operating a liquor club without a license. Donald could be sentenced to up to five years prison time on the felony charge of operating a place where illegal substances are sold and up to a year on the misdemeanor charge.

Donald and his wife, Chrissi Donald, were arrested in a raid on Nov. 15 at the mobile home, owned by his mother, that they had converted into a bar dubbed the Club 212 for its location on Northeast 212 Court.

No trial date has been set for Chrissi Donald on two felony counts of operating a business that sold illegal substances. But she has a case management conference on Wednesday.

The club, open on Friday and Saturday nights, had a Facebook page with photos showing patrons with drinks inside the building and bar food, like chicken wings and chicken strips.

Patrons were charged a $5 cover charge and $5 for a cup of ice that came with the liquor of their choice, according to the sheriff's office. The club had music by a DJ and crowds of 800 to 1,000 people on the weekends.  There were garbage cans with liners inside and out to collect discards. 

Sheriff Bobby McCallum's office released a statement on Thursday commending Assistant State Attorney Bill Ezell for taking the case to trial.

“Our office is very pleased with the work that the State Attorney's Office did and in our officers with what they did in this investigation. This conviction will send a message that if you endeavor to open a business of that nature do it right, get the proper license, make sure the venue is proper and everything is all good,” said Sheriff's Lt. Scott Tummond.

Tummond also said the sheriff is thankful to the SAO for allowing the sheriff's office to make a statement about the impact the club had on the neighborhood and the investment in time and money to investigate the case.

“We have so much time invested in it,” said Tummond who is also head of the Investigative Division. “This was done at great expense to the sheriff and the taxpayers.” Tummond said complaints to the sheriff's office from residents in the area of the club have dropped considerably since the club was shut.

The impact statement can also be taken into account in determining the length of sentence that Donald will be given by 8th Judicial Circuit Judge William Davis. 

Tummond said the number of complaints to the sheriff's office have dropped dramatically since the club was shut. He said the complaints included drinking, noise and shots beinf fired. There was a shooting at the club that the sheriff's office also investigated.

Tummond gave credit for the investigation to Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Narayan, Cpl. Jay Crooms and Lt. Shawn Hunt along with agents of the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco,

“The observations they made while working in an undercover capacity of the structural design, and the activities occurring inside,” were important in obtaining the conviction, Tummond said.

County Building Official Bill Hammond who inspected the premises after the raid, condemned the building. The structure had been altered with load-bearing walls removed creating a safety concern with as many as 200 people were inside it on occasion. The code enforcement case has not gone to court.

In an associated case, a charge against Antijuan Edwards during the raid on a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm was dropped in May.  Another weapon was recovered from the mobile home, but the owner is unknown, according to a Levy County Sheriff's Office statement.

Agencies participating in the raid were the Florida Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco Department, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol, and officers and deputies from the Gainesville and Williston police department and the Alachua and Marion County Sheriff's Office.