PARIS – Michael Gilbert doesn’t want his present legal troubles to hurt the reputation of Market Square Restaurant in Paris.

“None of my businesses were built on drug money,” he said Tuesday.

Gilbert, 30, faces a federal drug charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams of cocaine.

“My businesses are not involved in my case. There’s no connection,” he said.

He said he worked hard over the past eight years to build Market Square Restaurant, buying it at the age of 23 after serving with the Merchant Marines. The business supports 30 families and was expanded a few years ago. He owes $500,000 in loans he received to support the business. “They didn’t give me those loans because I was building a business on drug money,” he said.

The restaurant is now managed entirely by his brother Scott Gilbert, and Scott’s wife, Tisha.

Acting on the advice of his lawyer, he declined to answer specific questions about the charge. But he did say that he has a clean record, and “a lot” of the information contained in the police affidavit “is absolutely not true.”

Gilbert was arrested in Miami after being charged May 21 in U.S. District Court in Portland. He had no drugs on him when he was arrested. He was released on personal surety and returned to Maine June 14.

Gilbert’s mistake, he said, was in not being careful enough about who he associated with during his nine-month stay in Miami.

“I went down to Miami with good intentions” in mid-September of 2002, said Gilbert, because “I always had the big idea of getting into the nightclub business.” He and four other partners planned to invest $50,000 apiece in a video venture similar to the TV video “Girls Gone Wild,” he said.

The problem was, most of the people involved in the nightclub business in Miami also have connections to the drug business, Gilbert said.

“I made some bad choices. I kind of got wrapped up in the night life, the social life, and got involved with some people I shouldn’t have gotten involved with,” said Gilbert.

Thirty-two thousand dollars of the $50,580 confiscated by drug agents at a Fort Lauderdale airport from Gilbert’s friend, William Bryant of Lewiston, was money Gilbert was saving for the nightclub venture, he said.

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