A manager of a downtown restaurant who was charged with sexual battery against a 17-year-old waitress has denied allegations of any wrongdoing.
Paul Gilson, 55, of 203 Millside Manor, was arrested Sunday evening on one count of misdemeanor sexual battery, according to a report from the Morganton Department of Public Safety. Gilson is the manager at Bella Vino, located at 112 W. Union St., the report said.
A copy of the arrest warrant filed at the Burke County Courthouse said that Gilson “continuously wrapped his arms around” the victim, whose identity will not be published. It also said that, on one occasion, Gilson hugged her from behind while she was bent over getting items from underneath a counter and pushed his groin against her backside.
When The News Herald spoke to Gilson on Tuesday, he denied any wrongdoing. He said that the victim had previously been employed at the restaurant and came back a couple of days before asking for another job.
“She came in, we discussed her coming back to work, I welcomed her back on board,” Gilson said. “A couple of people laughed about it because I said, ‘See, I told you you’d be coming back,’ and I reached out, like is it OK to give you a hug, and I gave her a hug and said, ‘Welcome back to the family; I’m glad you’re here.’”
Gilson said a few minutes later, he said she was about to turn around and she was grabbing something.
“I put my hands on her shoulder and I said ‘I’m so glad you came back to become part of the family,’” Gilson said. “That’s what we always say at Bella Vino, we’re part of the family, we like the customers to know that. But there’s no truth to me ever doing something like that.”
He said another employee said she didn’t feel like he was doing anything wrong, and that he was just welcoming the waitress back.
“She’s worked with me before, she wanted to come back,” Gilson said. “She knows there’s no truth to any of this.”
Gilson, who has been manager at the restaurant since April, said he is planning to fight the charges in court.
“These are allegations that are false and just doesn’t look right,” Gilson said. “They have me distraught because there’s no truth to it. I would never do anything like that.”
The News Herald reached out to the victim through an associate, but she declined to comment. The newspaper also reached out to Manny Manolakas, owner of Bella Vino, but he did not respond by press time.
Gilson doesn’t have a previous conviction in North Carolina. He was issued a $5,000 secured bond with a court date set for Nov. 6.
Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter
Get the latest in local public safety news with this weekly email.