Criminal Justice

'Shocked' lawyer says he was convicted in gambling scheme for merely giving legal advice

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A Florida lawyer was convicted on Friday for masterminding a gambling operation disguised as Internet cafés benefiting a veterans’ charity.

Lawyer Kelly Mathis of Jacksonville was convicted of 103 of 104 counts, including possessing slot machines, helping to operate a lottery and racketeering, report the Associated Press, Reuters and the Florida Times-Union.

As he was leaving the courtroom, Mathis said he was “shocked” by the verdict, AP says. “I gave legal advice as an attorney, that’s all I did,” Mathis said. “Attorneys all over the nation need to be very afraid when six years after you give legal advice, somebody disagrees with that legal advice and they convict you of a crime.”

Mathis is free on bond until his sentencing on Feb. 12. He could face more than 100 years in prison.

The veterans group, Allied Veterans of the World, ran Internet cafés where customers could buy prepaid cards for Internet time on computers that also included games such as “Captain Cash” and “Lucky Shamrocks.” Winners would get more money on their prepaid card, which could be used to play more games or could be turned in for cash.

Prosecutors say Allied Veterans spent about 2 percent of its proceeds on charitable works, and Mathis and his law firm earned about $6 million for his role, according to the Times-Union story.

Defense lawyers said they would appeal the judge’s rulings barring testimony by public officials who had determined that Allied was not breaking the law.

Prosecutor Nick Cox disagreed with Mathis’ contention that he should not be convicted for giving legal advice. “You can’t use the practice of law as a shield,” Cox said after the verdict. “It doesn’t make me happy to convict a lawyer. What message does that send to the public?”

Fifty-seven people have been arrested in the scheme. Mathis was the first to go to trial. Twenty-nine defendants agreed to plea deals that include no prison time.

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