Mitch Stone said he will never forget waiting outside the Seminole County jail March 15, 2013, for Kelly Mathis — his client and friend — to be released.
Stone had fought for three days to get Mathis out of jail, including filing an emergency appeal with the 5th District Court of Appeal. It even took a last-minute call to the judge’s cellphone to settle a late snag.
Finally, Mathis walked out of jail about 5 p.m., Stone said.
Four years to the day later — and almost to the minute — the case against Mathis came to an end.
Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox decided Wednesday afternoon to dismiss the case against Mathis — the man prosecutors called the mastermind of a $300 million gambling ring that operated under the guise of a charity.
Mathis, a former Jacksonville Bar Association president, was among 57 people arrested in March 2013 in the Allied Veterans of the World gambling investigation. All of the defendants except Mathis, who was Allied’s lawyer, either accepted a plea agreement or had their charges dropped.
A jury found him guilty of 103 gambling-related counts in October 2013 and he was sentenced to six years in prison.
Three years later, an appellate court tossed the convictions, because the defense wasn’t allowed to present key evidence to help prove his innocence.
When the Florida Supreme Court decided Feb. 1 not to hear an appeal from prosecutors, it was up to the Attorney General’s Office to decide whether to retry Mathis.
Stone said he and Cox had been communicating “pretty regularly” about the issue over the last 30 days.
“We pretty much put it out there and we were very honest with each other,” Stone said.
He had hoped a decision would come Wednesday, otherwise he knew he would have been in court today, likely to set a trial date.
“As the day drew on, I thought I’d be driving to Seminole County tomorrow,” Stone said Wednesday night.
But Cox’s phone call came, saying he would not pursue another trial. The case against Mathis was over.
Cox said in a statement about his decision that since the case began in 2013, the state’s gaming laws have changed and Allied Veterans was out of business.
He said the office’s priorities now are fighting synthetic drugs, illegal opioids, human trafficking and gang violence.
“I feel that we should focus our resources on these priorities for the best interest in the state of Florida,” Cox said in the statement.
Stone said his initial call to share the news with Mathis went to voicemail. And when the two finally connected? “I’m sure there were a few expletives in our conversation,” Stone laughed.
Reached by text, Mathis told the Daily Record he couldn’t be interviewed Wednesday night because he was “overwhelmed.”
“I am greatly relieved that the Attorney General’s Office did the right thing,” he said.
Stone said he believed Mathis, a father of four daughters, was having a “nice celebratory night with his close family.”
One of the first calls Stone made Wednesday was to Brian Tannebaum, who is representing Mathis in his quest to get his suspended law license back. He was admitted to The Florida Bar in September 1988.
Stone said he’s elated for Mathis, whom he’s known close to 30 years, and is looking forward to him being able to practice law again.
“He really loves this kind of work,” Stone said.