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Kelly Mathis

Other Exonerations for Fraud
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On March 12, 2013, Florida law enforcement officials cracked down on gambling across the state. The crackdown was focused on the deceptive practices of “Allied Veterans of the World,” which billed itself as a charity. Kelly Mathis, a Jacksonville-based attorney for the organization, was one of 57 people charged with conducting an illegal gambling operation through what were called “Internet cafes.”

The Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, which oversaw a multi-jurisdictional task force, alleged that Allied Veterans operated dozens of the cafes, which purported to provide customers with access to the Internet. Customers purchased prepaid cards that they could use for Internet time, and while on the computer could participate in contests that were similar to playing a slot machine. Winnings were posted to the prepaid cards, which could be turned in for cash.

The investigation began in 2011 and ultimately the task force executed more than 50 search warrants at Allied Veterans’ cafes and at Mathis’s law firm. At time the charges were brought, the prosecution said Allied Veterans was running a $300 million gambling operation and that only 2 percent of its profits went to charitable ventures.

Mathis was charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, 51 counts of setting up, promoting or conducting an illegal lottery, and 51 counts of possessing an illegal slot machine or device.

Prior to trial, Mathis’s attorney requested that the trial court take judicial notice of the existence of ordinances regulating and permitting Internet cafes to operate in multiple counties, including Seminole (the county where Mathis was going to trial), as well as a Circuit Court order upholding an ordinance in Jacksonville County. In addition, the defense noted various Florida House of Representatives staff analyses and proposed bills aimed at allowing Internet cafes to operate. The purpose of this evidence, the defense argued, was not to say that the cafes in question were legal. Rather, it was to show that when Mathis advised the organization on the legality of Internet cafes, he relied upon the ordinances, as well as discussions with various local and state government officials, and therefore did not intend to violate any laws.

The prosecution opposed any such references during the trial and objected to Mathis raising a defense that he was merely providing legal advice and did not have intent to violate any laws. The prosecution said its evidence would not focus on Mathis as an attorney, but as a participant in a criminal enterprise.

In August 2013, the trial court granted the prosecution’s motion to bar Mathis from presenting that evidence and ruled that Mathis was not charged as an attorney, but as a member of a racketeering organization. The judge prohibited Mathis from introducing any “communication between (him) and any other attorney” regarding the legality of the Allied Veterans’ business model. The judge said Mathis could not introduce “evidence and testimony relating to county and municipal ordinances, as such evidence is irrelevant to the issue of whether he acted in violation of state statutes.”

On September 16, 2013, Mathis went to trial in Seminole County Circuit Court. Almost immediately, the prosecution—contrary to its representations before trial—zeroed in on Mathis as an attorney. In the opening statement, the prosecutor told the jury: “With Kelly Mathis—it’s about gambling. That’s what the charges are. Let’s be clear. But it’s about Kelly Mathis gaming the system. He’s a lawyer and he gamed the legal system.”

During the trial, the prosecution elicited testimony from its witnesses about the soundness of Mathis’s legal conclusions. At the same, the judge refused to allow the defense to present any testimony to rebut the prosecution’s evidence, including the local ordinances that permitted the cafes to operate.

In closing argument, the prosecution hammered Mathis for knowingly providing false legal advice.

“I’ll submit to you that the defendant was quite well aware of what he was doing when he was going out talking to everybody,” the prosecutor said. Mathis was “very aware of what the law is…why are we here on Kelly Mathis? Because of the way he gamed the law, the way he chose to practice law, to mislead, to deceive.”

On October 11, 2013, the jury acquitted Mathis of conspiracy to commit racketeering, and convicted him of one count of racketeering, 51 counts of conducting an illegal lottery, and 51 counts of possessing an illegal slot machine. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison.

On October 14, 2016, the Fourth District Florida Court of Appeals reversed Mathis’s convictions and ordered a new trial.

“The trial court should have permitted (Mathis) to offer evidence negating his intent to commit racketeering,” the appeals court said. “The State’s persistent trial theme involved repeatedly arguing that (Mathis) knowingly assisted Allied Veterans in operating an illegal sweepstakes. Yet, the testimony established that (Mathis) diligently researched the legal issues before concluding that Florida law did not prohibit Internet cafes. The trial court's decision to exclude the contested evidence effectively thwarted (Mathis’s) argument that he lacked the (intent) for his offenses.”

On March 15, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges. The Florida State Bar immediately agreed to reinstate Mathis’s law license. Mathis was the only one of the 57 people charged who went to trial. Most pled guilty and the prosecution dismissed the charges against the others.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/19/2017
State:Florida
County:Seminole
Most Serious Crime:Fraud
Additional Convictions:Other
Reported Crime Date:2013
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:6 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:59
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No