Kelly Mathis, the attorney who represented the Allied Veterans of the World Internet cafes and originally faced a criminal conviction that was overturned, will have his Florida Bar license restored, the Florida Supreme Court ordered Monday.
In a rare move, the Supreme Court also decided to back-date his re-instatement so that it’s as if he never was suspended in the first place.
This marks the end to a four-year ordeal for Mathis, once the president of the local bar association.
“It has been a long long road, and that was the absolute last piece of the puzzle to complete recovery,” Mathis said. “I’ve been vindicated. I’ve been re-instated. I think it’s huge that the Florida Bar and Florida Supreme Court agreed I should be reinstated retroactively to four years ago, recognizing that this was just wrong from the beginning. I never should’ve been suspended. I never should’ve been arrested, and I never should’ve been prosecuted.”
In 2013, Attorney General Pam Bondi accused Mathis of being the “mastermind” of a $300 million racketeering and money laundering scheme that involved Internet cafes where people were illegally gambling.
Mathis’ attorneys had argued that he was charged only with giving legal advice to a client. Lawyers across the state took particular note of his case, worrying about what it might mean for their criminal liability for attorneys who offer advice to clients.
Police arrested 57 people, but Mathis was the only one to go to trial. An appellate court threw out his conviction, finding the trial judge had been wrong to stop Mathis’ attorneys from arguing that what Allied had done was legal and not gambling.
Mathis had wanted to argue that Allied was offering sweepstakes, much in the same way McDonald’s does. Florida law says sweepstakes are not gambling if they are used to bring someone into a business that sells a legitimate product, like McDonald’s Monopoly stickers that come with meals. Allied Veterans, Mathis had said, was selling Internet time as a legitimate product.
During the trial, prosecutors presented people who had purchased hundreds of hours of internet time they had never used because they really came to gamble.
Bondi’s office decided not to go for a second trial against Mathis.
In March, Fourth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Mahon authored a report that urged the Florida Supreme Court to “immediately re-instate” Mathis.