ORLANDO, Fla. – No matter how a jury decides the fate of a well-known Jacksonville, Fla., attorney charged with operating a gambling network under the guise of a veterans' charity, the verdict in Kelly Mathis' trial will affect the two dozen or so co-defendants still waiting for their cases to be resolved, some defendants' attorneys say.
Jurors at Mathis' trial were to resume deliberating Friday on whether he committed any crime in his work for his client, Allied Veterans of the World. Jurors deliberated for five hours Thursday. Prosecutors said Internet cafes operated by Allied Veterans were a front for a $300 million gambling operation that gave very little to veterans' charities.
An acquittal of Mathis would likely cause many of the remaining defendants to seek to have their charges dropped since "the judge doesn't want to try the same case again" if a jury already has acquitted a major defendant, said attorney Don Lykkebak, whose client, Allied Veterans defendant James Hill, reached a deal with prosecutors last month.
A conviction, on the other hand, would likely have defense attorneys seeking plea deals for their clients, said attorney Cheney Mason, whose client, Allied Veterans defendant Anthony Parker, also reached a deal with prosecutors last month.
"I would suspect those lawyers and clients by that point in time will be encouraged to make deals," Mason said.
But statewide prosecutor Nick Cox was adamant Thursday that Mathis' verdict will have no effect on the other cases.
"People think that if there's an acquittal, we're going to stick our tail between our legs and run. We're not," Cox said. "If people think I'm going to wholesale dismiss these cases, it's not going to happen."
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.
Roughly half of the defendants have reached deals with prosecutors and the others have yet to resolve their cases.
Mathis is charged with 104 counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, helping run a lottery and possessing slot machines.
The heart of jurors' deliberations lies in determining whether gambling or promotional games were operated at the nearly 50 Internet cafes operated by Mathis' client, 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 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.
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