SANFORD, FLORIDA — On Wednesday, in front of a packed courtroom, Jacksonville’s retired deputy general counsel testified that the internet sweepstakes games in the Allied Veterans of the World Internet cafes were legal.
Steve Rohan testified under oath that he met with Allied’s attorney, Kelly Mathis, several times in 2007 to discuss the city’s ordinances that would come into play with Allied Veterans’ operations.
Mathis is on trial in Sanford, where he faces more than 100 charges of racketeering, possession of a slot machine and conducting a lottery. The judge dismissed over 4 dozen of the money laundering charges after the prosecution rested its case Tuesday.
Rohan and a former assistant state attorney in Volusia County both testified under oath that they believed Mathis was proposing a legal operation for the Allied Veterans centers.
“That was my opinion,” Rohan testified Wednesday. “We would not be advocating for a business that was in violation of state law.”
Rohan said Wednesday Mathis was open about setting up the sweepstakes games, which resembled gambling but did not fit the description that the state had defined.
Customers of the cafes sign a form that says they were purchasing Internet time. Sweepstakes entries were included for free. A business model almost identical to McDonalds Monopoly game.
“The (sweepstakes) exception Mr. Mathis proposed, while people might not like it, was a legitimate exception,” said Rohan.
Mathis told Rohan that a percentage of proceeds were going to a veterans’ charity. Eventually, poker rooms and local dog tracks wanted an ordinance to prohibit sweepstakes parlors in the city, which were run by several companies.
“Neither the state attorney nor the sheriff were trying to cease their operations,” Rohan said. The public, however, wanted the Internet cafes to remain open. ”People spoke at our City Council meeting and demanded the ability to go to them,” Rohan said.
Mitch Stone, Mathis’ defense attorney, showed jurors a document from the state Department of Agriculture that said legal sweepstakes games in Florida must resemble the McDonald’s Monopoly game, where a ticket that might win a prize, is given away with a purchase.
Allied Veterans gave customers an electronic “scratch-off” ticket when they bought Internet time, and the players could only be revealed on a computer on the inside the cyber sweepstakes cafe.
Several prosecution witnesses, customers of the cafes said they thought they were gambling and seemed confused to hear in court that they were simply learning from the computer whether their tickets were winners.
“The use of the computer was a fun way to find out whether you won or lost,” said Daniel Leising, a former assistant state attorney in Volusia County describing the ‘entertaining display’.
Leising said he met with Mathis and found that the Allied Veterans Business Model followed state law.
Jacksonville attorney Ed Akel said that while Mathis was listed as the registered agent for Allied Veterans, that did not make him a partner or give him a business interest in the company that took in $300 million as a veterans’ charity, while giving only 2 percent, or $6 million, to veterans – the same amount Mathis made in legal fees.
The prosecution ended their case Monday, almost 3 weeks shy of the four-week estimate.
The defense has a list of nearly 400 witnesses to choose from and will present at least six witnesses today, Stone said.
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