Jacksonville, FL - The net cast by Florida investigators examining internet cafes and scams around them continues to grow.
The Florida Department of Agriculture has reopened its investigation into South Carolina-based Children’s Cancer Cooperative and affiliated cafes. The Department had investigated claims years ago that the cafes- including many in Florida- were not giving proceeds to the charity, despite advertising and signage around the facility, and that the owners of the cafés were instead pocketing the profits.
At that time, the locations agreed to take down the signage, so the investigation was closed. But following the Allied Veterans of the World bust, where investigators say the group gave only a small percentage of the money gathered through illegal gambling sites to charity, the Department is looking once again.
“We are looking in to that under out sweepstakes provision to determine if they are misrepresenting where the money is going,” says Florida Department of Agriculture Spokeswoman Erin Gillespie.
Gillespie tells me these aren’t the same kinds of allegations facing Allied Veterans. She says at this time, the allegations aren’t criminal.
“It would just be a matter of coming in to compliance with the statutes that are on the books, but not necessarily a criminal charge,” she says.
There is one big similarity, however. In the dozens of pages of back and forth regarding these allegations that I have obtained, the Department of Agriculture continually communicates with the law office of Kelly Mathis, and identifies him as the lawyer in charge. Mathis is also the lawyer for Allied Veterans, and is facing more than two hundred various charges associated with that bust.
The earliest communication I have obtained dates March 24, 2009 and the most recent is dated the same week the Allied Veterans scandal was busted. In that communication, the Cooperative was actually expanding the number of cafes it is affiliated with, notifying the department of 6 new facilities.
Florida lawmakers are now working quickly to stop any further expansion. The house has voted on a bill essentially banning internet cafes and the Senate is expected to vote soon.
“Anything that the legislature can do to make sure these organizations are not scamming people and not scamming charities would be beneficial to the entire state,” Gillespie says.
She says if that ban comes through, their investigation in to the cooperative becomes moot. If lawmakers fail to follow through, however, she says the Department will revisit current restrictions to see what can be done moving forward.