Internet sweepstakes cafe fights Pinellas crackdown in court

PALM HARBOR — The owner of an Internet sweepstakes cafe raided by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is fighting the sheriff in federal court.

Megan Crisante, who owns Palm Harbor Internet cafe, filed a federal lawsuit this month accusing Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats and two detectives of violating her constitutional rights.

Crisante, whose cafe was raided in July, is the daughter of an Orlando woman accused last year of operating a gambling house in Marion County. Crisante's mother, Jeaneen, fought the charge before a jury and won.

Megan Crisante's cafe was one of three raided by the Sheriff's Office in July. Deputies confiscated 198 computers and $20,000 in cash from the cafes.

Her suit requests court action to keep the Sheriff's Office from taking further action against the cafe.

According to a legal response from the sheriff filed Friday, Crisante's suit alleges constitutional violations, but aims to keep the sheriff "from exercising his police powers." Crisante's suit claims that the sheriff and his employees acted to eliminate Crisante and her company's First Amendment rights to participate in marketing because the promotions use video games that depict gambling images.

Her suit accuses the sheriff and his detectives of closing her cafe by "fabricating and threatening unsubstantiated and unprovable gambling allegations." It also includes claims of unreasonable search and seizure.

The legality of the cafes has been debated, with some authorities allowing them to operate.

Crisante's corporation, PMP Cafe LLC, is doing business as the cafe.

State Rep. Peter Nehr previously owned Crisante's cafe at 38541 US 19 N. Florida corporate records show he is no longer a company officer. Nehr said Sunday he sold the business in June and has no financial interest.

"I'm completely out of the business," Nehr said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Internet sweepstakes cafe fights Pinellas crackdown in court 09/11/11 [Last modified: Sunday, September 11, 2011 11:40pm]

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