Originally created 05/14/98

Restaurant closed for drug investigation



Seven Gables Restaurant, put out of business by South Carolina revenue officials in 1989 for refusing to serve blacks when it was known as the Buffalo Room, was closed again Wednesday as authorities investigated a possible connection to interstate drug trafficking.

Randy Salter, one of the current owners and son of former owners Bruce and Rose Salter, was arrested Tuesday at his Edgefield County, S.C., home and charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and with weapons charges.

Telephone calls to the North Augusta restaurant went unanswered Wednesday evening. A message left at Randy Salter's residence was not immediately returned. A sign posted outside the restaurant Wednesday night indicated the eatery would reopen today.

The South Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission forced the Salters to forfeit their liquor license for the Buffalo Room in 1989 after Bruce Salter chased away six black government and NAACP officials who tried to enter the bar and grill.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had received complaints about the Buffalo Room for 10 years. After being shuttered for nearly seven years, the restaurant reopened in November 1996 as Seven Gables, with Randy Salter and his brother James as owners.

Police aren't saying much about the latest investigation.

But officers with a warrant searched the eatery on Georgia Avenue during the dinner hour Tuesday, said Capt. Randy Mosley of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety. Financial records and other documents were confiscated for "a paper trail," he said.

About 10 startled patrons were asked by a waitress to leave at about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday on pretext of a possible gas leak, according to one of the diners. About 10 police officers entered the restaurant.

Other charges are pending against Randy Salter and other arrests are possible, Edgefield County Sheriff Billy Parker said.

Officers found narcotics, weapons, explosives and documents at the home, according to a statement from North Augusta public safety officers.

The investigation is being conducted by a task force involving FBI agents, Edgefield and Aiken County deputies, North Augusta public safety, South Carolina's 2nd and 11th Circuit solicitors' offices, and a narcotics and violent-crime squad including Edgefield, Saluda and McCormick County authorities.

The task force acted in cooperation with the Central South Texas Narcotics Task Force from Live Oak County, Texas. Randy Salter was arrested May 2 in Corpus Christi, Texas, on charges related to drug-trafficking, authorities said. He was released on bond.

An initial search warrant was executed Tuesday at his residence on West Martintown Road, Aiken County Deputy Solicitor Lawrence Brown said. A search warrant for the restaurant was issued later in Aiken County, he said.

"As a result of some papers found at the residence, there was an indication there might be continued involvement with Seven Gables," Mr. Brown said. Police were looking for documents, bills, photographs, books and records tied into unlawful sale or distribution and trafficking in illegal drugs, the deputy solicitor said.

"The situation is still under investigation," Mr. Brown said. Randy Salter hasn't been charged in Aiken County.

Police wouldn't say if they found marijuana at the restaurant. Mr. Brown said he couldn't discuss whether authorities believe marijuana may have been sold from Seven Gables Restaurant.

Randy Salter was convicted in 1982 on federal charges of intent to distribute 10,000 pounds of marijuana, according to South Carolina tax revenue documents. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Because of his felony record, he was barred by the state Department of Revenue from holding the liquor license for Seven Gables Restaurant.

A family friend and business associate, George F. Poston, was issued the liquor license for the new restaurant soon after it reopened. The license is in effect until November 1999, state revenue spokesman Danny Brazell said.

In December 1989, the U.S. Justice Department dropped its lawsuit against Bruce and Rose Salter after they admitted practicing racial discrimination. The bar and grill first opened in 1980 with the liquor license in Rose Salter's name.

James and Randy Salter bought the restaurant and adjoining motel from their parents in 1993. Efforts to reopen the restaurant with a liquor license were blocked by state revenue officials who refused to issue the permit to either brother or to Mr. Poston.

However, a judge's administrative order in 1996 cleared the way, provided the Salters accepted restrictions on restaurant operations. A new name was mandated and the brothers had to agree their parents would never set foot in the restaurant. The parents and Randy Salter were barred from participating in management of the restaurant. There was no restriction on Randy Salter's managing the motel.

Staff Writers Todd Bauer and Tracie Powell contributed to this article.