JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The co-owner of Allied Veterans of the World -- a Jacksonville nonprofit that runs dozens of Internet cafes in Florida -- and Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba were among several arrested over the last 24 hours. While no one will confirm the charges against them, they appear to be in connection to what sources will only call a racketeering investigation.
Channel 4 learned that all 51 Internet sweepstakes cafes run by Allied Veterans were closed Tuesday and searched -- including all eight in Jacksonville, which recently changed their names to "Elite."
Jerry Bass, of Allied Veterans, was arrested in Jacksonville on Tuesday morning and held on a felony out-of-county warrant.
Also arrested Tuesday was Kelly Mathis, attorney for Allied Veterans.
According to federal documents, the arrests are connected to a gambling, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering probe that resulted in a search warrant issued out of Oklahoma on Monday.
The warrant indicates that investigators are looking into how much money Allied Veterans donates to charity. The document says the organization claims it gave 70 percent of $290 million in revenue over the last five years to charity, but investigators can only document $6 million -- or 2 percent -- were given to qualified nonprofit organizations.
The warrant also says that machines used in the Internet cafes are not games of chance, but slot machines, which are illegal outside of licensed casinos.
Officers at an Allied Veterans location on Beach Boulevard were seen taking computers and boxes of documents out of the business.
"Nobody was arrested," Sgt. W.R. Smith said. "We're taking some items out right now, and then we're fixing to leave the area."
Maria Richardson was inside at the time agents stormed in.
"I looked at my friend and I was like, 'Oh, my God. Who are all these people in masks?" she said. "The lady next to me was like, 'I'm fixing to get up right now 'cause this is the FBI. I'm fixing to get my money right now. So she went to the counter. She was like, 'Give me my money. Give me my money now.' But by the time that happened, they was already shutting everybody down."
Cuba and FOP Vice President Robbie Freitas (pictured, right) -- both sworn officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office -- were taken into custody. Cuba was arrested late Monday at a Fort Lauderdale hotel, where he was attending a pension conference. Freitas was arrested lat Monday at his Jacksonville home.
John Keane, executive director of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund, who was also attending that conference in Fort Lauderdale, told Channel 4 he saw Cuba taken into custody, handcuffed and placed into a SUV.
While no agency will confirm the charges against the FOP executives, it appears they are connected to the federal investigation of Allied Veterans.
The FOP board of Trustees held an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon to pick an interim president for the organization, which is the union for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
After the meeting, the FOP released a statement reading, in part: "We have no information that any part of the FDLE investigation has been directed towards the Jacksonville FOP or the Jacksonville FOP Foundation. It is our understanding that among those detained by the FDLE was our Lodge President and First Vice-President, whose involvement is undetermined, but appears to be a result of their personal business relationships with Allied Veterans.... The FOP has by-laws in place to allow for daily operations of the Lodge to continue as usual without interruption."
Asked for comment, Lauri-Ellen Smith, the media liaison for Sheriff John Rutherford released this statement: "At the appropriate time the sheriff will holds news conference with details about the operation."
Florida FOP President Jim Preston issued this statement:
"The Florida State Lodge is deeply concerned and shocked with the arrest of Jacksonville FOP Lodge 5/30 President Nelson Cuba and Vice President Robbie Freitas. These allegations are completely unrelated to the Fraternal Order of Police or their duties within the organization.
"As a law enforcement organization, we firmly believe in the justice system that we all work in. We also believe in the innocent until proven guilty concept. Until the investigation and court process determines otherwise, these individuals deserve the full protections afforded anyone who stands accused of a crime."