Closing arguments given in Fla. Internet cafe case

Associated Press

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A lawyer helped build a network of storefront casinos throughout Florida under the guise of a veterans' charity and should be convicted of more than 100 criminal counts, including racketeering and running a lottery, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Lisa Acharekar also asked jurors to convict attorney Kelly Mathis of conspiracy and possessing slot machines. The arrests of Mathis and more than 50 other defendants led to the resignation of Florida's lieutenant governor earlier this year and a ban on all Internet cafes in Florida.

Mathis determined where the Internet cafes run should be located and made other key decisions for the group, Acharekar said.

"This case is about the law. It's nothing more than that," Acharekar said. "The defendant, with the activities he participated in, broke the law."

Mathis has said he was merely acting as an attorney for the charity, giving legal advice, and that the Internet cafes were legal until the Legislature banned them this year. His attorneys have said Mathis never controlled any part of Allied Veterans of the World.

Defense attorney Mitch Stone told jurors that prosecutors had misinterpreted what was a gaming promotion and labeled it as gambling. The Internet cafes offered high-tech sweepstakes promotions and the law hadn't yet caught up with technology by the time of Mathis' arrest last March, he said.

"This case is based on the state's view of blurry evidence," Stone said. "They haven't proven it's gambling, number one, and they haven't proven that Mr. Mathis was a part of the organization, number two."

Mathis was the first of 56 defendants to go to trial in a case. About the time the arrests were announced, former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said she would step down because her public relations firm once represented Allied Veterans. Carroll, a Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War, appeared in a TV ad in 2011 promoting the organization's charitable work on behalf of veterans and their families. She was not charged with any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors said Mathis and his associates built a $300 million gambling operation by claiming the stores were businesses where customers could buy Internet time, when in reality most customers played slot machine games on computers and didn't use the Internet. Even though the Internet cafes were being operated under Allied Veterans of the World, very little of the $300 million the affiliates earned actually went to veterans, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have said Mathis and his firm made $6 million from the operation over five years.

"The defendant was doing pretty good by Allied Veterans of the World," Acharekar said.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys called as witnesses some of Mathis' key co-defendants who had reached deals with prosecutors: former Allied Veterans of the World leaders Johnny Duncan and Jerry Bass, as well as Chase Burns, who operated a company that made software for computers at the dozens of Allied Veterans centers around Florida.

Defense attorneys also didn't call some of the state's top politicians — such as Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi — even though they were listed as potential witnesses. The judge in the case limited testimony from witnesses who could talk about efforts by local governments and the state Legislature to regulate the Internet cafes.

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