Florida lawyer accused of “planning” Allied Veterans scam reinstated nunc pro tunc after reversal
Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Order of the Florida Supreme Court reinstating the license of a lawyer who had been charged with felony crimes for allegedly planning Allied Veterans scam and whose conviction was reversed. The Florida Bar v. Mathis
BackgroundAs some of you may recall, an alleged financial scam involving an entity called Allied Veterans, based in St. Augustine, was in the media extensively a number of years ago. The alleged scam involved gambling and "internet cafes". The lawyer had advised Allied Veterans that the internet cafes were legal and, after a law enforcement investigation, he was charged with planning the scam and with multiple felonies. in 2013, Attorney General Pam Bondi said that the lawyer was the "mastermind" behind the alleged $300 million racketeering and money laundering scheme with internet cafes where people were actually illegally gambling.
Although 57 people were arrested, the lawyer was the only defendant who went to trial. He argued that he was giving legal advice to a client and many lawyers were concerned about what that might mean for the potential criminal liability of attorneys who advise clients on a future course of conduct. The former presidents of the nonprofit pleaded no contest and the former Fraternal Order of Police president and vice president pleaded guilty and faced no prison time.
The trialThe criminal prosecutors argued that, although Allied Veterans claimed that it was a nonprofit organization created to help veterans, it had only given about two percent of its profits to charitable causes. The prosecutors also argued that the lawyer's law firm had billed the nonprofit about $6 million for his legal services, although his lawyers stated the amount was most likely less than that and that he only billed for actual work his firm had performed.
During the trial, prosecutors presented testimony from witnesses who said that they had purchased hundreds of hours of internet time but never used it because they actually came to gamble. The lawyers wanted to argue in the lawyer's defense that the lawyer had properly advised Allied Veterans that it was his opinion that offering a sweepstakes game that was legal under Florida law, which permits sweepstakes if they are used to bring a customer into a business that sells a legal product, such as McDonald's sweepstakes. The judge rejected their request to make that argument.
The appealAfter his conviction on 103 criminal counts, the lawyer was sentenced to six years in prison. He appealed and the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, finding that the trial judge improperly prohibited his lawyers from arguing that the internet cafes were legal and not gambling. The Attorney General's office decided not to pursue charges against the lawyer after the conviction was reversed.
The Florida Bar disciplinary matterIn disciplinary matter, The Florida Bar did not oppose the lawyer's reinstatement and Fourth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Mahon issued a report in March 2017 recommending that the Florida Supreme Court immediately reinstate the lawyer. In its July 17, 2017 Order, the Florida Supreme Court reinstated the lawyer nunc pro tunc to the date of his felony suspension in 2013
Bottom lineThis lawyer was charged with multiple felonies and chose to go to trial instead of accepting a plea bargain which would not have resulted in prison time; however, the conviction would most likely have resulted in his disbarment. After his trial in 2013, the lawyer was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison. He was also automatically suspended because of the felony conviction. Pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court's July 17, 2017 Order, the lawyer was reinstated to practice nunc pro tunc to November 28, 2013, the date of his felony suspension. The lawyer was ultimately suspended and unable to practice for over 3 1/2 years for a conviction that was later reversed.