In 1989, a charity for veterans called Allied Veterans of the World was born. The charity, under the guidance of well-intentioned leader Harold Grossman, used bingo games and bake sales to help raise money for veterans in need. Grossman passed away in 2004, leaving a man named Jerry Bass in charge of his good works. In 2013, Bass's organization was shut down due to allegations of scandal. According to an IRS affidavit in federal court, the fraudulent organization has been operating almost 50 illegal gambling locations in Florida under the guise of charity. While a small amount of money taken in by these gambling locations actually was donated to those in need, authorities allege that the group's leaders used the bulk of the organization's $300 million income over the past five years to buy luxury items for themselves and to financially support key Florida politicians.
March 2013: 57 Suspects Named in Florida Gambling Scandal
In March 2013, 57 people were named suspects in the illegal gambling operation. As of March 18, 53 of those suspects were in custody. Notable suspects include 65-year old Johnny Duncan, a man with a history of running illegal bingo games in the name of charity, and Kelly Mathis, the group's attorney. Authorities have alleged that Mathis is the ringleader of the operation, using his legal expertise to guide the group through loopholes that have kept their illicit activities under the radar for the past five years. Bass, who took over for founder Grossman almost a decade ago, was also arrested after authorities completed a lengthy investigation of the gambling ring.
Internet Cafes: How Allied Veterans of the World Made Their Money
The so-called charity absorbed its funds from various Internet cafes across Florida. An Internet cafe is like a coffee shop that provides Internet service instead of coffee. Customers who don't have regular access to the Internet can purchase time on a computer at an Internet cafe. While there, customers can pay bills, surf the web, whatever they like.
Internet cafes exist in several states, including Ohio, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Legislators in all three states have been working hard to ban the cafes, claiming that they are nothing but thinly veiled, illegal casinos. Authorities allege that Allied Veterans of the World was, in essence, committing a double crime: not only were they siphoning money from a falsely advertised charity, they were doing it through questionable Internet cafes. Attorney Mathis maintains the charity's innocence, saying the cafe slot games are indeed legal through a loophole in Florida law.
A Fishy Affiliation With Florida Politicians
During its operation, Allied Veterans of the World, took in $300 million through the Internet cafes. Authorities speculate that approximately $1 million of that money was contributed to the campaign funds of key Florida politicians who had the power to keep the organization in operation. Dan Krassner, executive director of a watchdog group called Integrity Florida, commented that Florida's political system is flawed in that it does not cap the amount of money politicians may receive from outside parties. This creates an open-ended invitation for any person or organization to contribute as much as they want to the politicians they chose, in essence allowing them to manipulate public policy with cash.
The Resignation of Florida's Lieutenant Governor
Florida's Lieutenant Governor, Jennifer Carroll, resigned from her position after being questioned by authorities on the issue of the scandal. Although Carroll has not been accused of corruption herself, Florida governor Rick Scott stated that Carroll did the "right thing" by stepping down from her position. The exact reason for Carroll's resignation is not known, but some speculate that it has to do with the scandal in question. Before her governorship, Carroll was once affiliated with Allied Veterans of the World as co-owner of a public relations firm that represented the organization.
A Pithy $6 Million Donated to Those in Need
Allied Veterans of the World donated $6 million to veterans during its operation. Although this amount may seem significant at first glance, it pales in comparison to the total $300 million taken in by Internet cafes over the past five years of the charity's operation. Authorities speculate that the major players in the scandal knew exactly what they were doing when they used the hardships of poor veterans to front their illicit gambling activities. Bits of money were donated here and there to charity-associated groups, but the 70 percent share of profits Allied Veterans of the World claimed to pour into the hands of needy veterans never actually occurred.
Gambling Scandal May Leave Some Innocent People Homeless
In 2011, Allied Veterans of the World donated $630,000 toward the down payment on a homeless shelter called the Allied Veterans Center. The shelter, a converted state nursing home, opened its doors to its first guest in 2012 and has the facilities to house 48 people in need. Currently there are 28 people living at the Allied Veterans Center. Because of the scandal, unfortunately, their future residency is uncertain. The operators of the shelter, Len Suzie Loving, have found themselves in dire straits due to the financial losses associated with the scandal. The Lovings said they are willing to go without most of their pay, as are some of their staff, in order to maintain the Allied Veterans Center for its homeless guests. They speculate that all funding will run out by June, however, and at that time they may have to close their doors, leaving up to 28 people out in the cold.
The complicated story of how this so-called charity used needy veterans and illegal Internet cafes for massive personal gain is still evolving. At the time of this writing, the search for four suspects in the scandal continues.