Accused 'mastermind' of Internet cafe scheme says he'll have trial

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man the state says is the mastermind behind an Internet cafe gambling scheme says he will not take a plea deal and will go to trial next month.

Kelly Mathis spoke at a news conference Thursday, saying that the recent court actions in which others accepted a plea deal should be no indication that the state has a case.

"I did nothing but provide legal representation, just like I did all my other clients. I knew that that wasn't true from the beginning, and that's why I've held my head high," Mathis said of being called the mastermind. "That's why I've maintained that I'm innocent and have completely believed that and believe that absolutely I will be found not guilty."

Mathis' attorney, Mitch Stone, has filed two motions, one to dismiss the charges, and if not, then move the trial from Sanford to Jacksonville because most of the witnesses are here. The judge has not ruled on either motion.

So far the judge has not ruled on either Mathis' charges of racketeering and money laundering.

Stone said Mathis' arrest was basically retaliation from the Seminole County sheriff.

"Everybody that has studied this case and looked at the evidence that there is not a shred of evidence that suggests Kelly Mathis broke the law or that any of these people broke the law," Stone said.

Mathis said this has ruined his life. He said he was just doing his job as an attorney.

"It has devastated my law practice. It's devastated my life," he said. "There is not a day that goes by that I release. I have these false charges hanging over my head. And right now I feel absolutely comfortable that I will be exonerated, and right now I am going through a very difficult situation."

On Wednesday, five months after 49 Allied Veterans of the World Internet cafes were raided and dozens of people were arrested on charges of illegal gambling, racketeering and fraud, the former leader of the group accepted a plea agreement offered by state prosecutors.

Johnny Duncan, the former national commander of the organization, pleaded no contest to four counts of maintaining an illegal lottery and one count of money laundering, each of which are third-degree felonies.

Duncan, 66, of Boiling Springs, S.C., will be sentenced to probation at a future date, according to defense attorney Curtis Fallgatter.

Another top official, John Hessong, reached a similar arrangement with prosecutors.

Duncan's 65-year-old wife, Linda,  Moses Ramos, and Chassidy Jones Dabbs agreed to be placed in pretrial diversion programs, a probation-like arrangement that will result in charges against them being dropped if they stay out of trouble.

Fallgatter said that was the best way to go considering Duncan has his health and family to consider.

The group's most prominent leader, Jerry Bass (pictured, right), was also in the Seminole County Courthouse on Wednesday, but was still pondering whether to enter a plea. He was given until Aug. 23 to reach his decision.

Bass' attorney, Chuck Hobbs, said they were working on an arrangement that would not include jail time.

COMPLETE COVERAGE:  Internet cafe scandal special section

Those who do not enter pleas or get diversion could face years in prison time if convicted at trial of racketeering, money laundering and other charges.

There was no immediate word on whether the president and vice president of Jacksonville's Fraternal Order of Police -- sworn Jacksonville Sheriff's Office deputies Nelson Cuba and Robbie Freitas -- were considering accepting deals to avoid going to trial.

The Office of Statewide Prosecution claimed that Allied Veterans, a nonprofit that provided charity to veterans, was a front for illegal gambling that was carried out in 49 storefront Internet cafes in Florida.

Prosecutors said the organization took in $300 million, but gave just 2 percent of that to veterans charities.

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Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.