Restaurant owner: 'I had no idea people were selling drugs in here'

By Evrod Cassimy – bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The owner of a Richmond restaurant labeled as a drug haven is telling his side of the story tonight. The 62-year-old still says he had no idea so many drug deals were going on inside the shop. He pled no contest to felony charges of maintaining a common nuisance.

Ann's Soul Food owner, Alexander Sally said he runs the restaurant all by himself. That, plus he says his bad eyesight made it difficult for him to see drug deals going on in his store.

Sally pled no contest to charges claiming he allowed drug deals inside of his restaurant. For the first time, he's answering tough questions hoping to clear his name.

When asked if he was at all aware that people were selling drugs here in this store Sally said, "No, I was not." When asked if he had ever seen any drugs in this store Sally said, "No I have not." And when asked if he himself had ever done any drugs, Sally said, "No sir! No. No sir!"

Though Sally told NBC12 he was unaware, we did find old signs on his walls, hinting "someone" knew drugs could be an issue here. We also discovered that nearly 40 people were arrested for selling things like heroin and Xanax inside the restaurant.

In response to seeing anything suspicious, Sally said, "Yes I did." He said he didn't call police because, "My life is in jeopardy. That's the reason I wouldn't call them."

When Ann's Soul Food is open for regular business again, Alexander Sally plans to make a few major changes. One being an orange chain that will be used to prevent anyone he does not want from coming in to his restaurant and selling drugs. Right now he can only offer takeout orders as part of his plea agreement. Prosecutors say they believe this is helping stop the drug problem.

"I think we've made huge strides," said prosecutor, Ann Cabel Baskervill.

Sally considers this a hard lesson learned.

"They can't come here no more. It's over," said Sally.

Besides the chain, there are plans to install cameras inside the restaurant. It will reopen for dine-in customers likely within a few months. Under his plea deal, Sally could get up to a year behind bars if police catch drug deals going down here and Sally doesn't help to stop them.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.