Atlantic Beach night club alleged spot for child sex abuse. Why wasn’t it investigated?

As a judge’s decision in a defamation trial against the Horry County Police Department and Solicitor’s Office draws closer, court records shed light on the extent of the agencies’ investigation into a strip club where alleged child sexual abuse occurred.

Anthony Strickland filed a lawsuit in January 2021 against the two agencies after he was arrested on charges of child abuse that were eventually dropped due to insufficient evidence. His charges were later expunged.

Strickland was arrested and charged alongside three others for child sexual abuse in 2016. Police reports say the child abuse allegedly took place the previous years at the home of a co-defendant in the case, Panteleimon Spirakis, and Chez Joey — a strip club Strickland owned at the time.

Spirakis, and two others charged in the case, Lindsey Honeycutt and Ambrose Heavener, have been sentenced.

Spirakis is currently serving 20 years in prison and has requested a new trial. Heavener was sentenced to 15 years in prison on an Alford Plea, which means Heavener claimed innocence but admits the evidence against him would result in a conviction. Honeycutt was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.

At the time of the alleged sexual abuse, Honeycutt worked at Chez Joey and Pearls Cabaret, a strip club located on U.S. 17 South in Atlantic Beach. But evidence in court records reveals that Horry police did not investigate the Atlantic Beach strip club — where defendants eventually told police the abuse initially occurred.

Investigator King Hemingway and 15th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson admitted to never investigating Pearls in video depositions last year.

A Freedom of Information Act request by the Sun News to Horry County resulted in a roughly 300-page police case file. In that file, Pearls was mentioned only a few times.

Ownership of the strip club has changed since the initial investigation, and land records show that the club was bought by Guy Properties LLC in 2020. When the Sun News reached out to Pearls Cabaret on Aug. 4, a manager stated that the “ownership has completely changed” since then, and hung up the phone when asked for a comment.

The case

The four people were arrested in 2016 and accused of several sex crimes, including child rape and abuse, against two children under the age of 11. Police say the four sexually exploited a 4-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl by forcing them to have sex with each other and adults.

The case came to Horry County Police after a North Carolina investigation revealed that the children were being abused by Honeycutt and Heavener at a place in Horry County the children called “The Dance Club,” according to records.

At the time of the case, police identified that the only place the crime could have occurred was at Chez Joey, based on the children’s narrative, reports say.

Search warrants were executed at four different locations — Chez Joey, Spirakis’ home, Strickland’s home and Heavener’s home.

A fifth search was conducted at Phil’s Locke and Key, Spirakis’ business at the time. Several devices were taken during searches, including computers and cellphones.

What court records say

Police knew that one of the defendants, Honeycutt, worked at Pearls Caberet during March 2016, according to police records.

When Strickland’s legal representation Patrick McLaughlin questioned Horry County investigator King Hemingway in a June 2022 deposition for Strickland’s lawsuit, Hemingway confirms that no criminal investigation was made into Pearls despite knowing the defendant’s connection to the strip club.

But police did investigate Chez Joey, the Myrtle Beach strip club Strickland owned at the time. The two clubs are located about 20 minutes away from each other.

“I made a decision not to get any search warrants for Pearls, because I believed the allegations that was made occurred while (Honeycutt) was employed at Chez Joey,” Hemingway states in the deposition.

A police interrogation of Honeycutt, parts of which are public records and appear in court documents, says that Honeycutt confirmed that the first time the children were molested was at Pearls.

During the course of the deposition, Hemingway changes his mind on the evidence against Strickland.

“I would say, there’s no information provided today that would make me say that (Strickland) committed a crime against children,” Hemingway said.

Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson was also asked questions about the extent of a search into Pearls on July 26, 2022.

Richardson said that the focus into which strip club would be investigated relied on the testimony of the victims – both age 4 at the time.

Richardson admits during the deposition that Pearls is a more likely candidate for the abuse.

“As an adult, if my wife were to ask me about you know Chez Joey’s or one of those in Myrtle Beach, or Pearls, I would feel more comfortable explaining my position as to why I was at Chez Joey’s than to why I was at Pearls,” Richardson says.

When asked by the Sun News in June about any investigation into Pearls, Richardson said that the role of the investigators at the Solicitor’s Office was to get cases ready for trial.

“Our investigators are not there to do police work,” he said.

However, Assistant Solicitor Leigh Andrews states that investigators with the Solicitor’s Office did check with SLED, who indicated there may be a federal investigation into Pearls, according to a deposition.

“I personally would have shut Pearls down, if I had a choice,” Andrews stated in her deposition. “But I don’t. All I can do is tell police what’s happening, and they kind of do their thing.”

SLED responded to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Sun News by stating there were no public records of any investigation into Pearls.

It’s unclear whether or not there are any active investigations into Pearls. In cases of child sexual abuse, federal agencies such as the FBI or Department of Homeland Security would be involved.

When asked, a spokesperson from the FBI stated he would not be able to state whether or not there are any active investigations into Pearls.

It’s been roughly eight years since the child abuse took place.

Start of trial delayed

Strickland’s slander and libel trial against the Horry County police and Solicitor’s Office was set to begin the week of April 24.

However, attorneys depleted their jury pool as all or many of the potential jurors said they could not be impartial to child abuse.

Did Horry police defame man accused of child sex crimes? Trial delayed due to jury issues

Currently, the judge on the case is taking two motions for summary judgment made by the Solicitor’s Office and the police department under advisement — meaning the judge could make a decision on the case without going to trial.

The case appeared on the July 17 trial roster, but a court date has yet to be set.

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