JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, convicted of leading a $300 million gambling ring that used a charity as a front, will be getting a new trial.

The new trial comes after the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that Mathis’ defense team didn’t get to call a key witness that could have helped its defense.

“The trial court decided that since the state’s theory of prosecution was limited to their belief that they could prove Kelly Mathis was actually a part of the Allied Veterans of the World business and not just their lawyer, they would prove that without trying to prove that it was Mathis’ legal opinion that resulted in the charged gambling,” Mathis’ defense attorney Mitch Stone told the Florida Record. “In essence, the court said that I could not put on evidence of how Mathis arrived at his opinion that the conduct charged was not gambling because the state was not saying he was guilty because of his legal opinion. Therefore, the judge said we could not put on evidence of how Mathis researched the law, analyzed the law, met with law enforcement, government lawyers, politicians and government officials to get their input into his legal analysis.”  

Mathis was convicted of 103 counts of racketeering, possessing slot machines and additional charges. He also was sentenced to six years in prison. Mathis’ charges stemmed from accusations that he operated numerous illegal internet cafes. Out of the 57 people initially arrested in the Allied Veterans of the World case, Mathis was the only person to receive prison time.

The case also forced Florida Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll to resign and the state legislature to ban internet cafes in 2013. Carroll settled her case with the state ethics commission with an admission she violated state ethics law and a $1,000 fine.

In the original trial, Stone wanted to make the case that Mathis, as Allied’s attorney, thought the cafes were legal in Florida. His legal advice was based on his belief that the cafes weren’t illegal at the time. However, the trial judge said Mathis’ charges weren’t as a lawyer, but as part of the organization and didn’t let the jury hear that defense.

Stone and his team appealed the judge’s decision and the Fifth District Court of Appeal determined, “the trial court abused its discretion by excluding evidence supporting his theory of defense.”

“We made that argument and the record on appeal supported it,” Stone said. “The appellate court found Mathis was not part of the business and had proven that at trial. They also found that by preventing us from putting the evidence on to rebut the new prosecution theory we did not get a fair trial.”

Now that Stone and his team can present a jury with its entire defense, he feels the result will be a lot different.

“(A jury) may realize that this is not gambling at all but even if they decide it is gambling, unless they ignore the evidence we should prevail since there are at least five to 100 lawyers, government officials, politicians and law enforcement officers from all over the state who understood Mathis’ legal opinion and agreed with it,” Stone said. “We hope the statewide prosecutor and attorney general will ultimately agree that Kelly Mathis has suffered enough and realize what the truth is and what the evidence supports and they will drop the charges and let Mathis get back to the life he once had. If not we will be prepared to go to trial again with all of our evidence this time.”

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