SANFORD, Fla. -- Defendants accused of running a veterans’ charity as a front for a gambling operation are mounting a defense that Internet cafes are lawful based on the legal interpretations of some high-profile politicians and lawyers.
Documents filed in the cases of the 57 Allied Veterans’ defendants show their defense will rely on statements, a campaign donation solicitation and ordinances passed by city and county officials throughout Florida. The documents show a belief by some elected officials that the legality of Internet cafes was no different than those of the defendants who are now charged with money laundering, possessing slot machines, keeping a gambling house and other crimes.
"Clearly, a local government body would have no authority to regulate and zone activity that is already forbidden ...," defendant Kelly Mathis said in a motion arguing that local ordinances to regulate the Internet cafes should be allowed to be presented at his trial. "The fact that they did proves they too concluded the applicable state statutes did not outlaw the internet sweepstakes games."
Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned earlier this year after she was interviewed as part of the probe into Allied Veterans. She denies wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged with a crime. Lawmakers banned the Internet cafes during this year’s legislative session in response to the arrests of the Allied Veterans’ defendants.
The series of motions by defendants were filed this month in anticipation of the start of the trial in mid-September for some of the defendants.
The most visible effort to link a prominent politician with the belief in the Internet cafes’ legality was the failed effort by defense attorneys to subpoena Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi into giving a deposition. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester earlier this month rejected attorneys’ request to submit Bondi to a deposition, saying the information they were seeking wasn’t relevant to the defendants’ guilt or innocence. The attorneys were seeking information about Bondi’s solicitation of a $25,000 campaign contribution from one of the companies whose owners are charged with crimes.
"The logical inference from such testimony is that she thought that the businesses were lawfully operated, so the defendants are not guilty of the crimes alleged," Lester wrote in his order. He added that her opinion was "irrelevant and inadmissible."
Several of Florida’s top politicians also are on defense witness lists, including Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and Bondi, although just because they’re named doesn’t mean they will be called to give testimony at trial.
Defense attorneys also are trying to allow at trial the testimony of local elected officials and their lawyers who drafted ordinances regulating the Internet cafes in their jurisdictions. One such attorney, a former general counsel for the city of Jacksonville, filed an affidavit attesting to the fact that Mathis didn’t break the law in advising Allied Veterans affiliates how to set up their businesses. Mathis was the registered agent for many of the Allied Veteran affiliates.
"Indeed, my independent research and analysis ... confirmed that Mr. Mathis was correctly interpreting these statutes, and their application to the manner in which his client, Allied Veterans, conducted electronic sweepstakes on the computers made available to their patrons," said Steven Rohan in the affidavit.
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