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Internet cafe owners stand to lose fortune, including Maserati, Harley, homes

Joe and Florence Vanilla were surprised to discover that the Internet sweepstakes cafe at 2402 Commercial Way in Spring Hill was closed Wednesday.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Joe and Florence Vanilla were surprised to discover that the Internet sweepstakes cafe at 2402 Commercial Way in Spring Hill was closed Wednesday.

SPRING HILL — Business boomed at two Spring Hill sweepstakes cafes in 2008.

That year, the cafes on Commercial Way and Forest Oaks Boulevard raked in a combined total of more than $4 million, authorities say.

By early 2012, that amount climbed past $20 million.

The sum is a significant chunk of the roughly $300 million in illegal gambling proceeds that investigators say were collected by 49 Florida cafes connected with a group called Allied Veterans of the World.

On Tuesday, two Spring Hill men associated with the Hernando cafes were arrested as part of a statewide dragnet by local, state and federal agencies. Anthony William Alascia, 52, and John Nicholas Cucciniello, 46, face charges of racketeering, keeping a gambling house, fraud and money laundering, among others.

A Hudson man connected to the cafes, Charles P. Bartlett, 69, was arrested on the same charges.

At a news conference Wednesday, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said Allied Veterans, a purported charity based in Jacksonville, collected millions of dollars for itself but gave little money to veterans.

Authorities have arrested nearly 57 people in 23 Florida counties and five other states. Investigators are seizing slot machines and records from Allied Veterans gambling centers, as well as 80 vehicles and vessels, 170 properties, and 260 bank accounts estimated to hold $64.7 million.

The Seminole County Sheriff's Office, which launched the initial investigation that sparked the operation, has released two affidavits totaling more than 800 pages that offer details about each cafe, the suspects who ran them — and the assets they stand to lose.

Authorities say Allied used software to illegally operate slot machines under the guise of selling time on the Internet. Each gambling center was listed as an Allied Veterans of the World affiliate, but Allied never had a role in the day-to-day operation or management of the sites.

The goal, Seminole sheriff's Capt. James Gibson wrote in the affidavit, was "to disguise the true nature of the enterprise and its ownership and to deceive the public, government agencies, and law enforcement into believing the monies derived from the gambling centers was actually going to Allied Veterans of the World."

Allied funneled the gambling proceeds through for-profit corporations that paid more than $90 million to Allied Veterans management, its software provider and attorney, investigators say.

The corporations that ran the cafes around the state, meanwhile, reaped about $194 million in profits.

Only about $6 million went to veterans groups, authorities said.

The Hernando cafes, Allied Affiliates 45 and 52, were at 3270 Commercial Way and 7269 Forest Oaks Blvd. Number 45 had moved about a mile south, to 2402 Commercial Way, by the time agents raided it Tuesday.

Both Alascia and Cucciniello also ran a cafe in Manatee County, and Alascia ran one in Sarasota County, the affidavits state. Those two businesses brought in more than $2.4 million over about five years, investigators say.

The four cafes operated under the corporation names GinLin LLC and MegJon LLC.

How much Alascia, Cucciniello and Bartlett profited from the businesses is still unclear, but the government is set to seize money in bank accounts associated with the cafes and from the men's personal accounts.

The amounts currently in the accounts were not included in the affidavits, but a little over $7 million was deposited in one of the GinLin accounts between March 2010 and March 2012.

Also on a list of assets eligible for seizure are Alascia's 2011 Maserati GranTurismo and four of his homes in Spring Hill valued for tax purposes at nearly $300,000, property records show.

Cucciniello's assets eligible for seizure include a Harley-Davidson, an 11-foot Bombardier vessel and a 19-foot motorboat.

Bartlett's assets include two water scooters, a Chevrolet Corvette and a Dodge Ram.

All three men had their first court appearances Thursday in Seminole County. They are set to be arraigned May 7.

An attorney representing Alascia and Cucciniello could not be reached. Records show that Bartlett did not have an attorney as of late Friday.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes on Twitter.

Internet cafe owners stand to lose fortune, including Maserati, Harley, homes 03/16/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 1:34pm]

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