(AP) A Jacksonville attorney "gamed" the legal system to help build a multimillion-dollar network of storefront casinos throughout Florida under the guise of a veterans' charity, Florida's statewide prosecutor told jurors Thursday before they began deliberations.
Statewide prosecutor Nick Cox said at Kelly Mathis' trial that the Jacksonville attorney manipulated the law while helping Allied Veterans of the World set up Internet cafes in Florida. Jurors could begin deliberating later in the day whether Mathis is guilty of any crimes.
"This case is about gambling, but in reality it's about a complete disrespect, a disregard and manipulation of the law," Cox said during prosecutors' rebuttal closing arguments.
Mathis is 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.
Mathis is charged with more than 100 criminal counts, including racketeering, running a lottery, conspiracy and possessing slot machines. He faces dozens of years in prison if convicted, although any sentencing will likely be for much less time.
Several defendants have reached plea deals with prosecutors.
During closing arguments, his defense attorney 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 Allied Veterans ran nearly 50 Internet parlors that were actually 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," Cox said. "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."
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mikeschneiderap