JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after having his convictions thrown out by an appeals court, Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis maintained his innocence and said the prosecution never had enough evidence against him.
Mathis, who was the only person to go to trial in the Allied Veterans of the World scandal and was convicted of racketeering and other charges, appeared before a three-judge appeals panel in September.
"I was incredibly relieved,” Mathis said of the appeals court decision. “I felt that the court of appeals understood the issues and ruled in my favor. It was very gratifying."
Mathis said he didn’t think the prosecution had a solid case in the first place.
“They kept changing what they were trying to prove,” Mathis said. “I don't think that they ever really knew exactly what their theory of prosecution was. We asked them from the beginning, ‘What exactly did I do wrong? What did I do that was criminal?’ And at first they said, 'Well, you were the attorney. You gave bad legal advice.'”
Mathis and his attorney, Mitch Stone, believed that the prosecution’s lack of evidence and strategy would make for a short trial.
“They started interviewing and doing, I guess, some additional discovery and realized, well, maybe that theory won't work,” Mathis said. "(They thought), 'So what we're going to try to do is try to introduce evidence that you were part of the business.' And Mitch and I thought, 'Well, that's great, because there is no such evidence. This is going to be a pretty short trial.'”
Mathis maintains that he was never a part of the businesses and that the evidence backed his claim.
“This court of appeals opinion made it clear that there simply was no evidence, and that I wasn’t anything other than the attorney providing legal advice and legal representation,” Mathis said.
Of the 57 people who were arrested during the raid on nearly 50 Allied Veterans of the World locations in 2013, Mathis was the only one sentenced to any jail time. Allied Veterans co-founder Jerry Bass accepted a plea deal. So did Nelson Cuba, then-president of the Fraternal Order of Police, along with FOP vice president Robbie Freitas.
"I knew from the beginning that I would not accept a plea deal,” Mathis said. “I maintained my innocence. And that's the difference between me and the other 56 people."
Mathis was the only person to go to trial and was convicted of racketeering.
"I never spoke to the prosecution about a plea deal,” Mathis said. “I told them I was not interested in any discussions of a plea deal. I would not enter a plea under any circumstances. So they were left with no alternative than to take me to trial."
Mathis, who was allowed to remain free pending his appeal, insisted that jurors would have agreed with him but said they never heard all the evidence in the case.
"I stood up for what I believed in. I stood up for my innocence,” Mathis said. “And fortunately the court of appeals found that my theories and my evidence should have come in and that I did not get a fair trial."