SANFORD, Fla. - A well-known Jacksonville, Fla., attorney charged with operating a gambling network under the guise of a veterans' charity was found guilty of racketeering and several other charges on Friday.
At issue was whether Kelly Mathis committed any crime in his work for his client, Allied Veterans of the World.
The only count Mathis was found not guilty of was conspiracy. He will be allowed out of jail on bond until his sentencing on Feb. 12.
Jurors deliberated for 15 hours after prosecutors said strip mall casinos operated by Allied Veterans were a front for a $300 million gambling operation that gave very little to veterans' charities.
Mathis was the first of 57 defendants to go on trial in the Allied Veterans
case, which led to the resignation of Florida's lieutenant governor and a ban on all Internet cafes in the state earlier this year. Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's public relations firm once represented Allied Veterans.
She was not charged with any wrongdoing.
Roughly half of the defendants have reached deals with prosecutors and the others have yet to resolve their cases.
Mathis was charged with 104 counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, helping run a lottery and possessing slot machines.
"At least it sends the message when something in the system is going wrong like this, people will be held accountable,"
prosecutor Nick Cox said.
The heart of jurors' deliberations
lay in determining whether gambling or promotional games were operated at the nearly 50 Internet cafes operated by Allied Veterans of the World.
Mathis, a former president of the Jacksonville bar, said he did nothing wrong. During closing arguments for the defense, his attorneys said prosecutors misinterpreted what was a gaming promotion and labeled it as gambling.
"They haven't proven it's gambling, number one, and they haven't proven that Mr. Mathis was a part of the organization, number two," defense attorney Mitch Stone said Wednesday.
Prosecutors said Mathis and his associates built the operation by claiming the stores were businesses where customers could buy Internet time, when in reality most customers played slot machine games with names such as "Captain Cash,"
"Lucky Shamrocks" and "Money Bunny."
"None of these people wanted to come here for Internet time because they were selling games," Cox told jurors Thursday during a prosecution rebuttal in closing arguments. "The Internet time was a sham, a complete sham."
Mathis and his firm made $1.5 million a year doing work for Allied Veterans. He should have known that Allied Veterans was breaking the law, and that the owners of the affiliates relied on his advice that what they were doing was legal, Cox said.
Eyewitness News saw him in court, hugging his crying wife and daughter.
Mathis, how do you feel about this?" asked Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Deal.
"I'm shocked," Mathis said. "Attorneys all over the nation need to be afraid."