JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – About 18 people involved in an Internet cafe scheme, including some high-profile people from Jacksonville, are hoping to bond out of jail in Seminole County on Thursday following some commotion in court Wednesday.
Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba and FOP Vice President Robbie Freitas are among those facing racketeering charges in the federal investigation. Investigators say they received more than $571,000 through a shell corporation during an 18-month period in connection with the investigation into gambling centers throughout Florida.
Bond for Cuba and Freitas was set at $500,000 at Thursday's hearing.
They were booked into the John E. Polk Correctional Facility in Seminole County earlier this week. Their bond hearing initially began Wednesday before being stopped.
Bonds for Jerry Bass (pictured, irght), head of Allied Veterans of the World, and Kelly Mathis the organization's attorney and accused mastermind in the $300,000 scheme, were each set at $1 million.
"Mathis is not a ringleader. Mathis was the lawyer for organizations who were trying to establish how to legally conduct business," said attorney Mitch Stone, who's representing Mathis. "He was advising, he was litigating, he was counseling, he was doing the things that attorneys do for clients. And it's a pretty scary day in America if your lawyer is subjected to being prosecuted for representing your interests."
Stone filed a motion to reduce Mathis' bond.
Other conditions of the bonds are the suspects must turn in their passports and cannot leave the state.
IMAGES: Faces of those arrested
Mark NeJame, a prominent Orlando attorney representing Internet cafe owners Tony Parker and Amir Waheed, said his clients getting arrested is wrong.
"They've been fighting it in civil court for years, never been shut down," NeJame said. "These places are not underground. They pay their taxes, they have employees."
Attorneys were in the middle of trying to get Mathis released on bond Wednesday, saying he was not a flight risk, when all of a sudden a judge different than the one hearing the argument barged in and said the hearing was over.
Attorneys said they'd never seen anything like that happen before and their clients have the right to a fair first appearance within 24 hours.
"This is a completely illegal process, what happened in this courtroom today," said attorney Mitch Stone, who's representing Kelly Mathis. "They're entitled to a meaningful first appearance within 24 hours. That was not done. My client has been in jail for 30 hours. We tried to have a meaningful hearing today, and the judge who signed the no bond warrant came in and shut the hearing down."
Mathis was one of the 18 people scheduled for a bond hearing in the federal investigation.
"I know some of them personally," Stone said. "They're doing business and legally working within the courts. This process today is the only illegal thing that I know of. What just happened in this courtroom, that's the only illegal thing."
Those who choose to post bond will have to prove the money they use to post bond is "clean money" and was not obtained illegally.
Sheriff John Rutherford and the FDLE at a news conference Wednesday afternoon announced a coordinated effort involving federal, state, county and local law enforcement agencies that resulted in arrests and search warrants involving 49 illegal gambling centers in 23 Florida counties.
The investigation called Operation Reveal The Deal began in 2007, Rutherford said.
He said that's when the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office began an investigation of a potential criminal enterprise. By September 2008, Rutherford said, the investigation had uncovered potential illegal activity on the part of Cuba.
By 2010, it became clear that Cuba (pictured, right at Thursday's bond hearing) was not part of the original enterprise under investigation, but was possibly tied to a second separate criminal enterprise with multiple entities that appeared to be shell companies, Rutherford said. He said further investigation revealed that some of those companies were affiliates of Allied Veterans of the World.
Rutherford said that at that time, he ordered a separate investigation into the activities of Cuba, Freitas, Allied Veterans and its affiliates.
The investigation found they received more than $571,000 through a shell corporation called Enzyme Consultants and from an Internet cafe in Yulee over the course of a year and a half. The two withdrew cash weekly, attempting to avoid detection by removing amounts just below mandatory federal reporting requirements, investigators said.