Lawyers push back in Internet cafe cases

Kelly Mathis was among the defendants appearing in a Seminole County Courtroom March 13at a first-appearance hearing on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, and dozens of chargeseach of possession of slot machines, keeping gambling houses and money laundering.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In March, 57 people went to jail on charges of racketeering, illegal gambling, and money laundering in what quickly became known as the Internet cafe scandal.

Now lawyers for those arrested are pushing back, saying the charges should be dropped before the cases go any further. They point to a key prosecution witness being discredited and state records they claim proves the cafes were operating within the law.

"Folks were arrested based on his opinion that they were slot machines," said Curtis Fallgatter, who represents four of the suspects. "So when the state agreed they were invalid, we hoped they'd drop the charges, but they haven't yet."

Fallgatter reached out to defend his clients' position, saying the business model for Allied Veterans of the World was legal and wasn't disproven in the state's investigation leading to arrests.

Fallgatter said D. Robert Sertell was going to be the state's expert witness, claiming he could tell slot machines from legal sweepstakes machines by playing the games.

"We knew that was voodoo science, not science at all," Fallgatter said. "We deposed him. The standard in Florida is to have a laboratory test, got to be an actual, scientific test, which he never did. So we filed a motion to disqualify him. The state, a week later, consented and have withdrawn him as an expert."

COMPLETE COVERAGE:  Internet cafe scandal special section

Fallgatter believes there's no probable cause for the search, seizure and arrests that centered on the business based in Jacksonville.

As Florida's Office of Statewide Prosecution gets ready to try the case, Fallgatter points to a different Florida agency: the Department of Agriculture. He says these training slides produced by Adam Putnam's agency refer to the exact business model Allied Veterans had and shows they operated within the law.

"In 2007, the Deparment of Agriculture investigated Allied Veterans specifically and gave them a clean bill of health," Fallgatter said. "In 2011, then commissioner Putnam was interviewed and explained that what we're doing was perfectly lawful."

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office is prosecuting the case. In a statement, it said, "It would not be appropriate to comment on an open case."

The trial is scheduled to start mid-September in Seminole County.

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