Rutherford answers questions on role in Internet cafe scheme

Sheriff knew about investigation while accepting campaign donations

Published On: Mar 15 2013 04:47:44 PM EDT   Updated On: Mar 15 2013 08:17:18 PM EDT
Sheriff John Rutherford at gambling bust news conference
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

An Internet cafe gambling scheme called "Operation Reveal The Deal" hit six states, but much of the attention is centered here in Jacksonville.

That's home to whom investigators call the mastermind behind the scheme, attorney Kelly Mathis, head of Allied Veterans of the World, Jerry Bass, and two Jacksonville police officers -- Nelson Cuba and Robbie Freitas, president and vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, respectively.

Sheriff John Rutherford spoke Friday about his role in the investigation.

Of the many questions this week are, why did it take two and a half years to bring the scheme down? Why did the sheriff and others accept campaign money if they knew it was dirty? And what will happen to the police charities now that some think the process is tainted.

"In fact, it was officers wearing this badge that went after those officers wearing this badge," Rutherford said. "Nobody had to come in here cleaning this house up. We did it ourselves."

"Actually, the way the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office got into this was through an investigation that revealed the money laundering scheme," Rutherford added.

The sheriff said he knew he was accepting campaign money from those involved, but had to keep the operation undercover.

"Everything had to run just like there was nothing wrong, and that has been the hard part in this," Rutherford said. "For two and a half years, I had to look Nelson (Cuba) in the face, Robbie Freitas in the face, knowing where this was all going, and that wears on you. But you got to keep this front that everything is OK, everything is alright."

That was also a time when Internet cafes were being debated by the City Council. In 2010, the council was being lobbied hard by the industry, including Allied Veterans, to stay open.

Rutherford was asked if the nonprofits were legal and should they be allowed to operate. Some were saying why didn't the sheriff speak up then that there was a problem.

"You're Kidding. I shut them down in 2007," Rutherford said. "I closed them and then they came back under the questionable loophole as a sweepstakes."

The sheriff said he has been asked by the public why it took so long to bring the operation down. He said when dealing with financial records, investigators can't move too fast.

"It was a multitude of things that really drug this out," Rutherford said. "What we did not want to do is take this thing down and half the people and have the evidence get away. That did not happen."

Now the sheriff says investigators are preparing for round two, but he can't talk about that. He can, however, talk about how this is affecting the FOP, its foundation and the charities it supports.

"What I want people to know is this does not say anything about the FOP," Rutherford said. "This says something about the character of those two men who drug the reputation of the FOP and this agency into the mud."