SANFORD, Fla. - At the end of the first day of deliberations, the six jurors charged with decided if a Jacksonville attorney "gamed" the legal system to help build a multimillion-dollar network of storefront casinos guised as a veterans' charity have adjourned for the night.
The jurors headed to the deliberation room shortly before lunchtime Thursday. They must decide whether Kelly Mathis is guilty of any of the 104 counts he faces, including racketeering, conspiracy, helping run a lottery and possessing slot machines.
If Mathis were convicted of all charges, he could face more than 100 years in prison.
The heart of the deliberations lies in determining whether gambling or promotional games were operated at the almost 50 Internet cafes operated by Mathis' client, Allied Veterans of the World. About three hours into deliberations, jurors asked to see a digital version of a Department of Agriculture training manual that defense attorneys said backs up their contention that the Internet cafes were legal. Jurors were told only a hard-copy was available.
Mathis was the first of 57 defendants to go on trial in the Allied Veterans case that led to the resignation of Florida's lieutenant governor and a ban on all Internet cafes in the state earlier this year. Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's public relations firm once represented Allied Veterans. She was not charged with any wrongdoing.
Several defendants have reached plea deals with prosecutors.
Mathis, a former president of the Jacksonville bar, said he did nothing wrong, and during closing arguments for the defense, his attorneys said prosecutors had misinterpreted what was a gaming promotion and labeled it as gambling.
"They haven't proven it's gambling, number one, and they haven't proven that Mr. Mathis was a part of the organization, number two," defense attorney Mitch Stone said Wednesday.
Prosecutors said the Internet cafes were a front for a $300 million gambling operation that gave very little to veterans' charities. Mathis and his associates built the operation by claiming the stores were businesses where customers could buy Internet time, when in reality most customers played slot machine games with names such as "Captain Cash," ''Lucky Shamrocks" and "Money Bunny," prosecutors said.
"None of these people wanted to come here for Internet time because they were selling games," state prosecutor Nick Cox told jurors Thursday during a prosecution rebuttal in closing arguments. "The Internet time was a sham, a complete sham."
Mathis and his firm made $1.5 million a year doing work for Allied Veterans. Cox said that he should have known that Allied Veterans was breaking the law, and that the owners of the affiliates relied on his advice that what they were doing was legal.
"It's not even a matter of him being more than an attorney. The fact that I have a bar card doesn't protect me from committing crimes," Cox said. "I mean, if I use my bar card to commit a crime, I should be held responsible for it just like you or anybody else who is watching this."
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