ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - It claims to donate Internet sweepstakes revenues to child cancer research, but according to state investigators, the Children's Cancer Cooperative is using sick kids as cover to funnel money.
A new probe has been launched into the South Carolina-based group that has ties to Allied Veterans of the World and Internet cafes in northeast Florida.
Investigators say Children's Cancer Cooperative was consulted by Allied Veterans' lawyer, Kelly Mathis. The organization also advertises in two Internet cafes in Jacksonville and one in St. Augustine.
The state is telling Internet cafes to severe their ties with the cancer organization. State investigators say customers are told if they lose at Internet gaming, the money goes to cancer research, but in reality, very little, if any, is going to help children with the life-threatening disease.
Before customers are allowed to bet money on the Internet games at Old City Sweepstakes, they have to sign a sweepstakes registration form sponsored by the Children's Cancer Cooperative. Investigators say it's intended to make gamers feel their money is going to a good cause, when in reality children with cancer may not be getting a dime.
"These people are using vulnerable children and adults to try to make money, and it's awful," said Erin Gillespie, of the Florida Department of Agriculture. "It's shameful to use these people as a way to make money. They are lining their own pockets to make money, and they are trying to make the people spending the money feel better about themselves."
Channel 4 obtained a brochure from the Children's Cancer Cooperative in which owners claim to donate funds to cancer patients' families to cover doctor bills. State investigators say it's just not true, and they've warned owners at Old City Sweepstakes to sever their ties.
The owner refused to comment Monday about why the his business has not done so.
"I think the question is, would I have come in here if it was a for-profit organization, and yes we would have come in here," Internet gamer Robert Totre said.
He said he would play there regardless of the affiliation. But other customers aren't as forgiving, like one woman who wanted to remain anonymous.
"I think it's a mixup," she said. "They should not be representing something that they are not representing."
State investigators say the same task force that investigated Allied Veterans of the World is following the money trail of the Children's Cancer Cooperative. The South Carolina group was consulted by Mathis, and according to investigators, arrests are possible.
"They're basically saying, 'Come here and spend money with us, and whether you win or lose, you're giving money to charity,'" Gillespie said. "And that's just not true."
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