SANFORD, Fla. - Prominent Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, the man investigators call the mastermind of a $290 million Internet cafe illegal gambling operation, posted bail Friday and was released from jail after his bond was reduced from $1 million to $200,000.
After a third day of hearings, Mathis and the 17 others arrested on thousands of charges in connection with the racketeering investigation of Allied Veterans of the World were posting bond and being released from the Seminole County jail.
Conditions of the bonds included surrendering passports and not leaving the state. Mathis' attorney, Mitch Stone, said his client's bond was reduced after proving to the court he was not a flight risk or danger to the community, and after acknowledging all the awards he's received over the years. Stone also called up a witness -- another attorney in Jacksonville -- to testify that Mathis is a good person.
"Kelly Mathis (pictured, right) is not the ringleader behind anything," Stone said. "He is a lawyer representing clients and trying to establish what was legal to do within the confines of the Florida statues and every municipal ordinance in every county in this state."
The group of suspects in the alleged scheme also includes Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba, Vice President Robbie Freitas, and co-owner of the nonprofit group at the center of the investigation, Jerry Bass. Freitas and Bass according to the jail's website, remain in the Seminole County Jail.
Cuba's bond was reduced from $500,000 to $250,000, and he was released from jail Friday afternoon after posting bail.
DOCUMENT: Bond reduction motion
While Judge Kenneth Lester on Thursday set bonds of $500,000 to $1 million for many of the central figures in the alleged racketeering conspiracy then reduced them Friday, the suspects had to prove the money they used to post bond was obtained legally, which they did.
Defense attorneys argued passionately earlier this week that their clients were not being given a "meaningful" court appearance -- something guaranteed under the Constitution.
"That's outrageous, it's not American! It's worse than you'd find in a third-world country," said Mark NeJame, who is representing several of the Allied Veterans location owners. "If we heard this was in Russia or China, we'd be aghast. And this is happening in our own backyard."
NeJame said he and other attorneys had not been allowed to raise standard issues in bond hearings, such as whether their clients are a danger to the community or flight risks. But they did Friday.
"I do think there's something wrong with the fact that the government swoops in after allowing someone to operate for five and a half years and then freezes everything," NeJame said of the investigation. "Because if you're legal for five and a half years, then how do they have a right to go in and take that which they were legitimately having your business open and operate."
Stone said his client, Mathis, was not the ringleader, but merely advising organizations who were trying to establish how to legally conduct business.
"If you're going to arrest Kelly Mathis and this organization, then you need to look at McDonald's and Pepsi and every other organization and business that does any type of sweepstakes," Stone said. "That's what they do to entice people to buy products. They offer sweepstakes prizes, and this was nothing more than that."
The two FOP executives are both sworn officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
As for Mathis:
"It's been tough three days in jail for a guy who didn't deserve to be in jail for an hour," Stone said. "Not getting his opportunity to be heard in court for over 72 hours was very trying, but he held his head high and and I'm happy to say he's going home today and he's happy."
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