Internet cafes busted for racketeering, money laundering | News
ORLANDO, Florida -- A sweeping multi-state investigation of a purported Florida-based veterans' charity has netted nearly 60 arrests and the resignation of the state's lieutenant governor.
Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll once did public relations for the non-profit Allied Veterans of the World, which allegedly took in more than $300 million since 2008, but gave just 2% to veterans.
Carroll was questioned in the investigation, but she has not been charged with wrongdoing. (Read Intergrity Florida's compilation of Carroll's financial disclosures while serving as an elected official)
"Operation Reveal the Deal" was four years in the making and involved seven different law enforcement agencies.
Investigators say Allied Veterans ran a sophisticated racketeering and money laundering scheme with their 49 Internet cafes. The organization used to have cafes in Hillsborough County as well, but a county-wide ban of internet cafes was approved in late 2011.
"It is shameful that the Allied Veterans of the World allegedly attempted to use the guise of a charitable organization to help veterans in order to lend credibility to their $300M scheme," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Neither Bondi nor FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey would comment on Carroll's involvement, saying it was part of their continuing investigation.
"This is the first wave," Bailey said of the busts. "We have now started reviewing gambling sites that are not under the Allied Veterans of the World."
Allied Veterans has pumped huge amounts of money into the coffers of Tallahassee lobbyists and politicians recently and Bailey said other politicians could be implicated as well.
On Monday, law enforcement officers began executing 54 search warrants and 57 arrest warrants across six states. Their raids stretched across 23 Florida counties.
Authorities say Allied Veterans of the World was led by four co-conspirators: Johnny Duncan of Boiling Springs, South Carolina, Jerry Bass of Jacksonville, Florida, Chase Burns of Fort Cobb, Oklahoma, and Jacksonville lawyer Kelly Mathis, who went to high school in Brooksville.
Duncan serves as the former national commander of the organization, Bass is the current commander, and Mathis is the organization's attorney. Burns owns and operates International Internet Technologies and provided the software used by the gambling centers.
The organization is federally registered as a 501(c)(19), a tax-exempt veterans organization, and states that it operates for charitable purposes. Instead, investigators allege it ran gambling centers and illegal slot machines, funneling the illegal proceeds through a sophisticated web of for-profit corporations that paid off the Allied Veterans of the World management, software provider and lawyer.
More than 100 for-profit corporations and a combination of shell companies and internet cafes were utilized to conceal the illegal activity and funds generated by the gambling centers. Investigators found that during the period January 2008 to January 2012, less than 2 percent of the $300 million in gambling center revenues was given to charity.
The other 53 conspirators are associated with the illicit enterprise and operated the gambling centers, hiding their portion of a combined $194 million in gambling proceeds. These suspects reside in Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia. They face multiple counts of gambling, slot machines, lottery, money laundering and RICO. Two of the men involved Anthony Alascia and Charles Barlett are from Hernando and Pasco County, respectively.
All charges are first degree felonies and all of the subjects arrested will be initially held on a no bond status.
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