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Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll quits amid gambling probes

March 13, 2013|By Michael Muskal

Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned Tuesday from the office she has held for more than two years amid an investigation into an alleged illegal-gambling scheme that officials said has led to charges against 57 people.

In a brief statement announcing her resignation, Carroll gave no details on her reason for stepping down.

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Wednesday that Carroll had been questioned by Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers about her work with Allied Veterans of the World, which described itself as a non-profit charity aiding veterans. Officials allege the group was engaged in illegal gambling with the profits going to its owners rather than veterans. Carroll’s public relations firm represented Allied in the past.

“Individuals were arrested [Tuesday] for racketeering and money laundering charges in connection with Allied Veterans of the World's illegal gambling companies,” Scott’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, said in an email sent to reporters.

“Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll consulted for Allied Veterans while serving as a member of the Florida House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010. She was interviewed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers regarding her work with the company,” he said. “Lt. Gov. Carroll resigned in an effort to keep her former affiliation with the company from distracting from the administration's important work on behalf of Florida families. She made the right decision for the state and her family.”

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, local, federal and Florida officials said they had charged 57 people in connection with an alleged $300-million conspiracy tied to Allied Veterans. Authorities said Allied was a “sophisticated racketeering and money laundering scheme stemming from 49 illegal gambling centers operating under the guise of ‘Internet cafes.’ The organization falsely claimed to be a charitable veterans’ organization, but instead deceived the public and government while lining the pockets of its operators.”

The key defendants were identified by authorities as Johnny Duncan, 62, of Boiling Springs, S.C.; Jerry Bass, 62, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Chase Burns, 37, of Fort Cobb, Okla., and Kelly Mathis, 49, also of Jacksonville. Duncan is the former national commander of the organization, Bass is the current commander, and Mathis is a lawyer for the organization. All are being held without bond, officials said.

Burns owns and operates International Internet Technologies, an Oklahoma company, and provided the software used by the gaming centers.

According to officials, Allied Veterans evolved from a charitable organization that ran bingo games and held bake sales for veterans beginning in 1979 to a group suspected of operating dozens of illegal for-profit gambling locations around Florida. Allied Veterans ran storefront “electronic sweepstakes” centers that it called “fund-raising centers,” according to officials.

“In fact, the 'fundraising centers' were nothing more than Internet casinos that operated slot machines in violation of Florida's gambling laws,” officials charged.

Burns, and his wife, Kristin, were arrested earlier this week in Oklahoma after an investigation that spanned several years and involved the Internal Revenue Service and various law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma and Florida, according to a statement issued by Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt's office.

“Burns and other owners of the gaming units claimed the money played and lost on the games was to be donated to a veterans group, Allied Veterans, which received less than 1 percent of the proceeds,” the statement said. “Prosecutors believe Burns earned more than $290 million on the gaming software and units.”

Carroll, a former Jacksonville state legislator, was Florida's first African American lieutenant governor. Her Jacksonville public relations firm, 3N and JC, did work for Allied in 2009 and 2010. She is the mother of Miami Dolphins defensive back Nolan Carroll.

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michael.muksal@latimes.com


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