2013 in review: Jennifer Carroll, Kelly Mathis fall in Allied Veterans probe; sex offender charged in Cherish Perrywinkle slaying
The two pieces of news came several hours apart.
First, the announcement of 57 arrests in a $300 million money laundering scheme linked to Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine charity that had been touted by many state and local officials for donating millions to veterans' charities.
Then, the surprise resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a former Clay County lawmaker.
Soon it became clear — the two were connected.
Carroll's ties to Allied included introducing a bill when she was in the House that would have legalized the Internet cafes that Allied and others operated under the state's sweepstakes law. A company she owned also did consulting working for Allied.
Gov. Rick Scott has yet to name a replacement for Carroll.
She wasn't the only big name connected to the undercover operation.
Kelly Mathis, the attorney for Allied and a former Jacksonville Bar Association president, was called the mastermind of the operation by prosecutors.
Nelson Cuba, president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, and Robbie Freitas, first vice president of the union, were also charged.
Johnny Duncan and Jerry Bass, the former and current leaders of Allied who had been the public face of the charity, were arrested, as well.
As of now, most of the 57 defendants have entered into plea agreements where they will serve no jail time. A few cases — including those of Cuba and Freitas — are pending.
Only Mathis, who was convicted in October by a jury on 103 counts, faces time behind bars. He remains free on bond and returns to court in February for a pre-sentencing hearing.
Mathis, who is appealing the convictions, was suspended from practicing law.
Other major legal news in 2013 involved several area judges.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan and his wife were at home in the early morning hours of June 23 when they heard a loud crash. At first they believed it was a light bulb exploding. They soon realized someone had fired a shot that tore through a window and two walls.
Within two days, authorities arrested Aaron M. Richardson, 24, of Jacksonville. Richardson was facing the possibility of Corrigan sending him back to prison for violating his federal probation.
Richardson was indicted on charges of attempted murder, as well as several counts related to making false statements. He faces life in prison.
Circuit Judge Brian Davis waited for 22 months before he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be a judge in the Middle District of Florida.
The delay was caused after Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, took issue with remarks Davis made 20 years ago. Grassley, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said those remarks showed a bias toward African-Americans. Ultimately, Grassley said Davis apologized for the remarks and the senator removed his opposition to Davis' appointment.
Davis was confirmed in December and is expected to serve in Jacksonville.
His is one of two seats in the 4th Circuit that the governor will have to fill. The second is the result of the death of Judge Jean Johnson, who died in December after a long battle with cancer. She was 66.
Replacements are not expected to be appointed until the first quarter of the year.
Longtime appellate and circuit judge Tyrie A. Boyer also died in December. He was 89. He was the father of Circuit Judge Tyrie W. Boyer and was a law partner of former Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler.
A girl named Cherish
Three weeks after Donald Smith was released from jail, 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle went missing from a Walmart where she had been with her mother, her siblings and Smith.
Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, had met Smith hours before and went to the Walmart with him when he promised to buy items for the family.
He and Cherish were supposed to be getting food from the McDonald's at the Walmart. Instead, he led her outside to the van he was driving and drove away.
As police began searching for the two, they knew Smith was a sexual offender with several arrests involving crimes against children. It was feared Cherish would be next.
Within hours, her body was found near a creek on the Northside and Smith was arrested as he was driving the van down Interstate 95.
Since then, legislators have promised to toughen up laws related to sexual offenders and predators, including how long they stay incarcerated and how they're supervised once they're released. Several bills have been introduced and will be debated in the legislative session, which begins in March.
Problems for Shirk
During the summer, three women were fired from Public Defender Matt Shirk's office, which led to two investigators resigning because they believed the terminations were unfair.
That was the beginning of months of negative headlines for Shirk and his office, which also included accusations of improper behavior with female employees, destruction of public records and his wife filing for divorce.
Shirk denied having a sexual relationship with the women, but told The Florida Times-Union that he sent inappropriate text messages to several employees. Those messages were among the thousands of public records released over several months.
The governor appointed Bill Cervone, state attorney for the 8th Circuit, to investigate the allegations. His investigation is continuing.