JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Leading, local state Sen. John Thrasher said the current crop of new Internet cafes may be legal, and he's the legislator who led last year's crackdown on Internet cafes on grounds they are illegal gambling.
His observations comes one day after Kelly Mathis, a prominent Jacksonville attorney, was sentenced to six years in prison for being the mastermind in what state investigators say was a multimillion dollar racketeering and money laundering scheme.
Mathis was the lawyer for Allied Veterans of the World, which operated a string of cafes that were closed down because investigators said most of the money was not going to charity and the Internet games were illegal gambling.
They were raided 11 months ago.
Thrasher's statement on the new Internet cafes being legal came as welcome news to the owner of one site on the Westside. He said that's all they've been asking for.
But for attorney Mathis, his attorney believes he was singled out for his role for no legitimate reason and plans on using the fact that the cafes are reopened as part of the appeal.
Despite being sentenced Wednesday, Mathis is at home while the case is being appealed.
His attorney, Mitch Stone, said there are a number of reason why the defense is appealing. One has to do with other Internet cafes operating at the advice of other attorneys, and he said those attorneys were never cited. Stone was not allowed to use that in court.
"By denying us that ability, the court made it seem like Kelly Mathis was alone on an island, saying it was legal while everybody was saying it's not legal," Stone said. "Truth and, in fact, we have identified lawyers from the state of Florida, lawyers from law enforcement offices and government officials, all who agree with Kelly Mathis' analysis."
About 60 new cafes have opened in Jacksonville. Thrasher said they may be in the clear. He said he spoke with Sheriff John Rutherford in Tallahassee and the sheriff told him his staff has been investigating.
"He has looked at some of these place that have reopened," Thrasher said. "I think he believes at least when they looked at them that they are not violating the gambling statue that we past last year when these things were shut down, that they are operating on the guise of skill not chance. And he is going to continue to look at them."
The owner of Pete's Retreat, the first Internet cafe to reopen, said that's what he's been wanting to find out.
"I think it's amazing," Pete Miller said. "It is something we have been hoping for since we opened in July. I give them a lot of credit. We were not aware of the fact that they did that. That is what we have been asking for. We want them to see that we have tried to comply with the law."