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Two Hernando men, one from Pasco arrested in Internet cafe crackdown

Joe Vanilla, wife Florence and an unidentified woman find this Spring Hill internet sweepstakes cafe closed Wednesday.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Joe Vanilla, wife Florence and an unidentified woman find this Spring Hill internet sweepstakes cafe closed Wednesday.

SPRING HILL — Two Hernando County men and one from Pasco are facing multiple charges in connection with a statewide crackdown on Internet gambling and sweepstakes establishments.

Anthony William Alascia, 52, and John Nichols Cucciniello, 46, both of Spring Hill, and Charles Bartlett, 69, of Hudson, were arrested Tuesday. According to affidavits, the men operated Gin Lin Sweepstakes locations at 3270 Commercial Way, 2402 Commercial Way and 7269 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill.

Alascia faces two racketeering counts, four counts of possessing a slot machine, four counts of operating a lottery, four counts of keeping a gambling establishment and eight counts of money laundering/transferring more than $100,000.

Cucciniello faces two charges of racketeering, three counts of possessing a slot machine, three counts of operating a lottery, three counts of keeping a gambling establishment and six counts of fraud and money laundering of more than $100,000.

Bartlett faces a charge of maintaining a gambling establishment and 45 counts of possession of a coin-operated gambling device. All three were booked at local jails, then transferred to the Seminole County jail, where they are being held without bail.

The men were all linked to Allied Veterans of the World, a nonprofit organization that operates dozens of Internet cafes throughout the state and is the subject of a statewide racketeering and fraud investigation in which search warrants were sought for 50 sweepstakes locations throughout Florida.

At the cafes, customers buy Internet time loaded onto a card and get free sweepstakes entries they can reveal by playing games on computer screens that mimic slot machines.

In an affidavit filed in Oklahoma to obtain the search warrants, Internal Revenue Service investigators wrote that Allied "engaged in a conspiracy and scheme to defraud" the public into believing that proceeds from the sweepstakes were going to a charity affiliated with the Veterans Administration.

The Florida Times Union reported that three men associated with the Allied — Jerry Bass, head of the veterans group; Mike Davis, an executive with the group, and Kelly Mathis, the group's attorney — were arrested in connection with the investigation.

In addition, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a former state lawmaker who owned a public relations firm that represented Allied Veterans, announced her resignation Wednesday, one day after she was questioned by authorities investigating the group.

Investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the IRS on Wednesday carried boxes out of GinLin LLC 52 on Forest Oaks Boulevard and GinLin LLC 45 on at 2402 Commercial Way, two of the Internet sweepstakes locations run by Alascia, Cucciniello and Bartlett.

While the businesses remained closed Wednesday, a sign on the front door of the Forest Oaks location said it would reopen today.

Joe Vanilla and his wife, Florence, both regular players at GinLin LLC 45, were surprised to learn that the Internet sweepstakes business had abruptly closed. The couple said they intended to visit another Internet cafe in the same shopping complex.

Alascia and Cucciniello have several ties to the Spring Hill business community. Cucciniella is listed in state corporate records as owner of Extreme Fitness in Spring Hill. The men are married to Susan Alascia and Nikki Cucciniello, who are listed as principal owners of Passports Restaurant in Spring Hill. The women are not the subject of the state investigation.

In addition, state corporate records show that Anthony Alascia is associated with Jac Sweeps LLC, a company that operates an Internet sweepstakes room in Sarasota that was also part of the statewide investigation.

Bartlett has a history of gambling-related arrests. In 2005, he was charged with keeping a gambling house for an establishment at 3270 Commercial Lane. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Last year, after Pasco Sheriff's deputies raided Achievers Internet Sweepstakes in Holiday, Bartlett was charged with running a gambling establishment and 45 counts of owning slot machines. The disposition of that case was unclear Wednesday.

Bartlett also owned Reel Fun of Pinellas, a Palm Harbor Internet cafe that was shut down in 2011.

Staff writers Jon Silman, Tony Marrero and Octavio Jones and Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Two Hernando men, one from Pasco arrested in Internet cafe crackdown 03/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 9:24pm]
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