JACKSONVILLE – Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is attempting to put a stop to a retrial in the case of Kelly Mathis, who was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement in the Allied Veterans of the World case.
According to www.theledger.com, the case, which centers on Internet cafés and allegations of illegal gambling, has been taken to the 5th District Court of Appeal. The court issued a ruling in October overturning the previous conviction and granting a retrial for the former president of the Jacksonville Bar Association.
Of the nearly 60 people originally arrested in the case, Mathis, who served as an attorney for the organization, is the only one to receive a prison sentence.
Attorney Curtis Fallgatter of Fallgatter and Catlin, P.A., represented other defendants in the case and has been outspoken about what he perceives as a conflict of interest as far as Bondi is concerned. Fallgatter said Bondi should have removed herself from any involvement in the case because of her acceptance of a $25,000 campaign donation during her run for attorney general.
According to court filings written by Fallgatter, Bondi not only met with Mathis in 2010, but also listened as he explained the business model of Allied Veterans of the World and the Internet cafés the organization operated.
“It’s a conflict of interest,” Fallgatter said, explaining that while she was accepting donations for her campaign, and additionally asking for funds to help with her inauguration events, she was tacitly approving of the organization and its activities.
In the original Mathis trial, a judge ruled that Mathis could not call other attorneys, state officials or the like who had discussed and approved of the business operation. That meant that Bondi was never deposed or called to testify, and the $25,000 campaign donation, as well as her meeting with Mathis prior to the acceptance of the donation, was never entered into record.
Now, the attorney general is trying to prevent that retrial from happening, a move that Fallgatter believes is politically motivated.
“There are two reasons (that Bondi would want to prevent a retrial). One, so that this dirty laundry (the $25,000 donation to her campaign, and the meeting with Mathis) isn’t aired, and two, because she knows that if there is a retrial, Mathis won’t be convicted,” he said.
If Bondi’s office fails to put the brakes on a retrial, Mathis will have to again go through the entire trial process, including jury selection. This time, however, Fallgatter explained that Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester will have to abide by the higher court’s ruling and allow Mathis to call Bondi and other expert witnesses. The testimony will likely take weeks due to the large number of experts and government officials that Mathis could call. The testimony, Fallgatter said, will have a huge impact on the case.
In the initial trial, Lester allowed the state to call patrons of the Internet cafés.
“They were laypeople, with no legal expertise, being called as expert witnesses, who said that they believed they were gambling during their visit,” Fallgatter said.
Those testimonies, while they may still be entered into record, aren’t likely to garner as much attention from a jury as the current attorney general’s deposition, or any other legal experts that Mathis would call.
As for Mathis himself, Fallgatter made it clear that he didn’t believe Mathis was a criminal in any sense. While he says he didn’t know Mathis personally prior to the case, he did get to know him closely during the legal process.
“He’s very religious,” Fallgatter said. “He’s the last person you should see convicted of a crime.”