SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Six jurors started deliberating Thursday on whether a Florida attorney should be convicted of any crime for helping build what prosecutors call a multimillion-dollar network of storefront casinos under the guise of a veterans' charity.
The jurors headed to the deliberation room shortly before lunchtime. They must decide whether Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis is guilty of any of the 104 counts he faces, including racketeering, conspiracy, helping run a lottery and possessing slot machines.
The heart of the deliberations lies in determining whether gambling or promotional games were operated at the almost 50 Internet cafes operated by Mathis' client, Allied Veterans of the World. About three hours into deliberations, jurors asked to see a digital version of a Department of Agriculture training manual that defense attorneys said backs up their contention that the Internet cafes were legal. Jurors were told only a hard-copy was available.
After deliberating for five hours, the jurors went home for the night and planned to resume deliberations Friday morning.
Mathis was the first of 57 defendants to go on trial in the Allied Veterans case that 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.
Several defendants have reached plea deals with prosecutors.
Mathis, a former president of the Jacksonville bar, said he did nothing wrong, and during closing arguments for the defense, his attorneys said prosecutors had 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 the Internet cafes were a front for a $300 million gambling operation that gave very little to veterans' charities. 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," prosecutors said.
"None of these people wanted to come here for Internet time because they were selling games," state prosecutor Nick 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. Cox said that 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.
"He's a lawyer," Cox said. "If anybody knew better about what the law said, it was him."
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