Testimony ending in Mathis trial, jury likely to get case Wednesday
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Wednesday in the trial of Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, who prosecutors have called the mastermind behind a string of illegal Internet cafes.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester on Monday blocked the testimony of eight attorneys who worked with Mathis and would have testified that he provided Allied Veterans of the World only with legal advice and did not own or manage the company.
Lester also did not allow the jury to hear the testimony of former Jacksonville deputy general counsel Steve Rohan, who testified last week in closed court, that Allied Veterans' cafes operated within state law.
"During the six years (Allied Veterans) was in business, most if not all, law enforcement and attorneys for cities, counties and the state accepted the fact that it was legal conduct," defense attorney Mitch Stone said in an interview Monday.
He said his case would have been stronger with testimony from the officials and attorneys, who would have told the jury that Mathis followed the state law as it was written at the time.
But, Stone said, the judge would not allow them to influence the jury with their opinions about whether Mathis and Allied Veterans followed the law.
"We have proven over and over and over again through their witnesses and our witnesses that Mr. Mathis was simply a lawyer for the organization," Stone said.
The prosecution, however, said Monday that Allied Veterans operated illegal slot machines and that the operations were under Mathis' "control."
The defense rested Monday without calling three of Mathis' co-defendants to testify. Allied Veterans commander Jimmy Bass, former commander Johnny Duncan and Chase Burns, whose company created the software for the games accepted prosecution deals that allowed them to avoid time in jail. Those deals included the possibility that they would be called by prosecutors to testify.
Stone had considered calling them, saying he was certain they would testify
favorably for Mathis. Ultimately, Stone said, their testimony could have opened them up to more charges.
Today, the jury will hear from two prosecution witnesses – an expert in the state sweepstakes law and a former assistant attorney general.
Then lawyers will work out details of the instructions to give to the jury before Wednesday's final arguments.
The jury must decide whether Mathis, 50, helped direct the operation and whether the cafes broke a state law that was recently changed after 57 people were arrested for operating the cafes.
State lawmakers tried to change the law three times during the past six years, succeeding only after the Allied Veterans arrests.
The jury will have a third fewer charges to consider against Mathis after Lester threw out 53 money laundering counts. Mathis still faces more than 100 charges of racketeering, possession of a slot machine and conducting a lottery.
Allied Veterans used an electronic sweepstakes to collect $300 million at its Internet cafes that resembled mini-casinos. Customers were required to buy Internet time on electronic cards, which included free sweepstakes entries.
They scanned the cards into a computer that appeared to operate like a slot machine but simply "revealed" whether the card was a winner. The computer had no effect on the outcome.
Allied Veterans gave $6 million of its proceeds to veterans – about the same amount Mathis received in legal fees.