Florida Lieutenant Governor Resigns in Gambling Probe

Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 03:57 PM

 

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Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned after an Internet cafe company that was her former consulting client was linked to an alleged illegal gambling racket, state officials said on Wednesday.

Carroll, who was not charged with wrongdoing, sent a brief note to Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday tendering her resignation, saying, "It has been an honor to have served the State of Florida in this capacity."

Carroll, a Republican, was the highest-ranking woman in state government and the first black official elected statewide.

Her resignation came hours before authorities announced that 57 people had been charged in a $300 million conspiracy allegedly orchestrated by Allied Veterans of the World, a non-profit organization that runs Internet cafes.

Operation "Reveal the Deal" uncovered what law enforcement officials described as a "sophisticated racketeering and money-laundering scheme stemming from 49 illegal gambling centers operating under the guise of Internet cafes," according to a press release by the Seminole County Sheriff's office.

"The organization falsely claimed to be a charitable veterans' organization, but instead deceived the public and government while lining the pockets of its operators," it said.

Investigators say the group took in $300 million from January 2008 to January 2012, but gave less than 2 percent to charity.

The investigation began three years ago after a World War Two veteran stopped into an Allied Veterans storefront and said to himself, "My God this isn't about veterans, it's a casino," said Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger.

Carroll once owned a public relations firm that represented Allied Veterans and worked for the group during some of the seven years she served in the Florida House of Representatives.

Internet cafes, which normally sell online access, have been controversial for several years. Many sheriffs and state legislators have tried to eliminate them, calling them fronts for casino gambling.

The governor's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, said Carroll had been interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding her work with the firm. She decided to resign "in an effort to keep her former affiliations with the company from distracting from the administration's important work on behalf of Florida families," he said.

Carroll took office as lieutenant governor in January 2011 and focused on aerospace job development and working with military contractors to increase economic activity of the armed forces in Florida.

She is a former Navy officer and previously was executive director of Florida's Department of Veterans Affairs.

Tuesday's arrests were made across Florida and in five other states, including Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Investigators also seized slot machines and records from Allied Veterans of the World gambling centers across the state, as well as 80 vehicles and vessels, 170 properties and 260 bank accounts estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

Among those arrested were Johnny Duncan, 62, former national commander of the organization; Jerry Bass, 62, the current commander; Chase Burns, 37, the owner of a company that allegedly provided the software used by the gambling centers, and Kelly Mathis, 49, the organization's attorney.

Also arrested were Nelson Cuba, 48, and Robert Freitas, 47, both of Jacksonville, Florida, who were identified as law enforcement officers who serve as the president and vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police's Jacksonville Lodge.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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