A four-year fight to imprison a Jacksonville attorney, whom state officials said was at the center of an illegal gambling ring at storefront gaming centers dubbed internet cafes, has ended with the state officially dropping the charges.
Kelly Mathis, who spent four days in jail, had his license to practice law suspended in the years since his arrest and the raid on the Allied Veterans of the World operations. After being convicted on about 100 counts in the scandal, an appeals court ruled in October that the judge erred in not allowing Mathis to present evidence that what the centers were doing was not illegal. With his convictions tossed, he was awaiting on the Florida Attorney General’s Office to decide whether to take him to trial again.
Mathis’ attorney said Thursday they were fully prepared for a second trial.
“Kelly Mathis is and forever will be innocent of all criminal charges,” Mitch Stone said during a news conference at his South Jacksonville Beach law office Thursday. He’s been vindicated, Stone said.
Mathis said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the charges. He subsequently lost his marriage and his business which had about eight lawyers. Just about the only thing he has from the years of building up his practice is his desk, he said.
Now he’s intent on rebuilding his practice and his name. The Florida Bar could not be reached late Thursday afternoon, so it was unclear what steps Mathis will have to take to try and restore his law license. He said he is weighing his options about a possible lawsuit and taking care of other matters.
From the get-go, Mathis and his attorney made it clear they were not interested in any deals as a court of law would prove his innocence. And while it took years to get to that point, Mathis, 53, on Thursday said he felt relieved all the same.
“Four years ago I remember walking out of the Seminole County jail feeling frustrated, outraged and I promised to you then that I would fight until I was proven innocent, that I would fight until the very end and I would continue fighting until my innocence was established,” he said. “I didn’t think that it would take four years to do so. Sometimes standing up to what you believe in is harder than you think. The road is more challenging than you anticipate. But with strength, you continue to go on. You continue to take each step. And I vowed to prove my innocence and establish that I had not done anything wrong. I’m pleased now with the outcome.”
A total of 57 people connected to Allied were arrested in 2013. Prosecutors said the defendants were involved in a $300 million gambling ring set up to look like a charity for veterans.
The raid of the St. Augustine-based company that owned about 50 centers across the state led to the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had ties to Allied but was never charged.
Statewide prosecutor Nick Cox signed the order dropping the charges. The order said his office took into consideration the fact the Allied Veterans corporation had since been dismantled as well as the nonviolent nature of the case when coming to the conclusion. Cox did not respond for comment Thursday.
Prior to his arrest, Mathis, who had been the president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, had long contended the Allied centers were offering sweepstakes and not gambling, thus stating they were technically legal under Florida law. At the various store-front centers, customers purchased internet time at computers that simulated Vegas-style slot machines. Prosecutors maintain people were not buying internet time to surf the web, rather to gamble illegally.
Mathis said he worked for the company for six years. State officials said he and his law firm pocketed about $6 million over that period.
Among those arrested was Nelson Cuba, then president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Jacksonville. In spite of the large number of people arrested, Mathis was the only one sentenced to prison after being found guilty of racketeering, helping to run a lottery and possession of an illegal slot machine or device. A judge deferred his six-year sentence pending an appeal.
Mathis won that appeal in October when the 5th District Court of Appeal sided with him.
State Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the state Supreme Court to to overturn the appellate court’s decision and reinstate the conviction. The state’s highest court declined recently.
Everyone else who was arrested either had their charges dismissed or cut deals with prosecutors.
Eileen Kelley: (904) 359-4104