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Local Bar Prez Convicted in Gambling-for-Charity Scheme Gets New Trial

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 06, 2017 2:58 PM

The former president of the Jacksonville Bar Association in Florida will get a new trial over his role in an alleged racketeering and illegal lottery scheme. In 2013, Kelly Mathis was convicted of 103 charges, stemming from his work with the Allied Veterans of the World. The St. Augustine-based charity ran dozens of gaming centers which, it argued, offered legitimate sweepstakes. Prosecutors considered those "storefront casinos" to be part of an illegal gambling, racketeering, and money-laundering scheme that raised $300 million, little of which was used for charitable causes. Mathis was accused of being the mastermind.

Mathis was sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement. "Attorneys all over the nation need to be very afraid when six years after you give legal advice, someone disagrees with that legal advice and they convict you of a crime," he said at the time. Now, he'll get a new trial, and another chance to prove his innocence.

The Alleged Allied Veterans Gambling Scheme

Mathis's new trial comes after a Florida appeals court ruled in October that his trial judge improperly excluded testimony during his trial. Last week, the Florida Supreme Court refused to review that decision, meaning a new trial is on the horizon.

Years ago, Mathis was accused of organizing the Allied Veteran's gambling scheme. Allied Veterans operated internet cafes where customers could play online games that were similar to slot machines. Customers purchased internet time on prepaid cards and, if they won, were rewarded with more money on their cards -- money they could use to keep playing, or convert to cash.

Under Florida law, according to Mathis, the cafes were simply offering a sweepstakes. That's because a game of chance could be used as part of an effort to bring customers in for a legitimate product. Think of a supermarket offering entry into a raffle, for example, or a timeshare company giving you a chance to win a trip to Disneyland.

Here, the argument went, the internet time was the legit product, thus the gambling was legal.

Prosecutors disagreed, citing gamblers who had purchased hundreds of hours of unused internet time. Those customers' gambling brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to Allied Veterans, but just about 2% of which was actually used on charitable services, prosecutors said.

On appeal, Mathis argued that he should have been able to introduce evidence that would show that the cafes were legal, according to the Florida Times-Union. The appellate court panel unanimously agreed.

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