Allied Veterans trial winds down
The trial of a Jacksonville attorney charged with using a veterans group to help build a network of storefront casinos throughout Florida was winding down Monday as prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over jury instructions.
The haggling over jury instructions at attorney Kelly Mathis' trial was expected to continue Tuesday, and prosecutors also planned to call rebuttal witnesses. Closing arguments were scheduled for Wednesday.
Mathis is charged with more than 100 counts of illegal gambling, possessing slot machines and racketeering. He has pleaded not guilty, claiming he merely gave legal advice to the Allied Veterans of the World affiliates.
Last week, Judge Kenneth Lester tossed out more than 50 money laundering charges against Kelly Mathis. The jury will still decide whether he is guilty of more than 100 other charges of racketeering, running a lottery and possessing slot machines related to Allied Veterans of the World.
Prosecutors say Mathis and others used the veterans group as a front for a $300 million gambling operation. His attorneys also say the network of Internet cafes were legal.
The arrest 56 people involved with Allied Veterans earlier this year caused the Florida Legislature to ban Internet cafes and led to the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. Carroll had worked as a consultant for Allied Veterans. She wasn't charged with any crime.
Prosecutors claim Mathis and his associates built up the network of casinos by claiming they 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 the aegis of Allied Veterans of the World, very little of the $300 million the Allied Veteran affiliates earned actually went to veterans, prosecutors allege.
Mathis' attorneys say the network of Internet cafes was legal.
"We have proven over and over and over again ... that Mr. Mathis was a lawyer for an organization and he was practicing law," said Mitch Stone, a defense attorney for Mathis. "He had a client and the client was conducting what was legitimately believed to be legal operations and the state didn't prove otherwise."
Prosecutors aren't commenting on the case for the duration of the trial.
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 didn't want to jeopardize their plea agreements by calling them to testify, Stone said.
"As the defense side, we're not capable of providing immunity ... and thereby allow people to testify without fear of reprisal," he said.
The scope of the defense's case was curtailed by a ruling by the judge that limited testimony from witnesses about efforts by local governments and the state Legislature to regulate the Internet cafes. Such testimony would have been valuable to the defense, Stone said.
"They would have explained their analysis of the law was consistent with Mr. Mathis' analysis of the law, thereby reflecting the legality of this business," Stone said. "We think that that evidence is powerful evidence that verifies that Mr. Mathis was traveling under a correct legal analysis that this was indeed legal."
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