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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

FDLE announces widespread probe into internet gambling, Allied only 'first wave'



Dozens of internet gambling centers that operate in strip malls across the state were snagged Wednesday after a three-year law enforcement investigation that resulted in the arrest of the owners of a $300 million gambling ring that was fronting as a veterans’ charity.

The investigation, which has led to the arrest of 50 individuals in Florida and other states who are affiliated with Allied Veterans of the World, is the “first wave” of Operation Reveal the Deal, said Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement at a news conference in Orlando. 

The arrests included the arrest of two police officers in Jacksonville who were the president and vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, and the investigation prompted to resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, whose consulting company had represented Allied Veterans until 2011.

“Their gambling centers were purportedly operated for charitable purposes but our investigation suggests that their premise of charity is a lie -- a lie to our citizens and a lie to our veterans,’’ Bailey said. “Our investigators believe that the reality is that each gambling center is operated by the owners of for-profit agencies that funnel the bulk of the money back to themselves.”

Bailey said the goal of the investigation is to dismantle the “elaborate and sophisticated $300 million enterprise” run by Allied Veterans in six states, and 23 Florida counties.

Law enforcement agents in Oklahoma conducted the first arrests on Monday, when they searched the offices of the organization’s computer software developer, Chase Burns and his wife, Kristen Burns. At least 500 federal IRS, secret service agents and local and state law enforcement officials then served 57 arrest warrants and 53 search warrants across Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday, Bailey said.

Investigators can show that less than 2 percent of the gambling proceeds from these operations were going to charities, including veterans, Bailey said. Instead, “large sums of money have been spent by Allied Veterans of the World on lobbying efforts and donations to political campaigns.

For years law enforcement officials, led by Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger, have warned legislators about loopholes in state sweepstakes gaming law that allowed the internet cafes to operate. During that time, the Allied Veterans contributed an estimated $2 million to state and local political campaigns, investigators said and the state lobbying compensation report shows that the organization $740,000 on lobbying the Legislature.

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 5:05pm]


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