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Thu March 14, 2013
Fla. Lieutenant Governor Resigns Amid Probe Of Internet Cafe
Originally published on Thu March 14, 2013 7:34 am
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Florida, an investigation into storefront Internet gambling parlors has forced the resignation of one top elected official. Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll is stepping down because of her involvement with a group called Allied Veterans of the World. That group runs dozens of storefront operations where people gamble using electronic slot machines. More than 50 people have been arrested.
And as NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami, the investigation is sending shockwaves through Florida politics.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida is one of several states around the country where companies billing themselves as Internet cafes have proliferated in recent years. These aren't coffee shops offering free Wi-Fi. They're gaming parlors that skirt state gambling laws. Yesterday, federal and state law enforcement officials combined to shut down nearly 50 locations run by a purported charity, Allied Veterans of the World.
At the storefront operations, Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger says players pay a fee to use computer terminals that function as slot machines.
SHERIFF DONALD ESLINGER: You really can't distinguish between a slot machine in Las Vegas and a slot machine in Allied Veterans' gambling centers. The only difference you see is instead of hitting the play button in Las Vegas, you hit the reveal button in Allied Veterans.
ALLEN: On Tuesday, after she was questioned by investigators from Florida's Department of Law Enforcement, the state's lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, handed in her letter of resignation.
In 2009 and '10, while she was still a state legislator, Carroll owned a company that did PR for Allied Veterans. She also introduced a bill that would have legalized these gaming operations in Florida; a bill she quickly pulled after party leaders reportedly told her it was a conflict of interest. Carroll later said the bill was mistakenly filed by one of her staff members.
At a news conference yesterday, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey was asked why Carroll was questioned.
GERALD BAILEY: I cannot comment on the lieutenant governor's role in this operation.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Why not?
BAILEY: Because, as I stated earlier, this is an ongoing enterprise - an ongoing operation.
ALLEN: Allied Veterans of the World was often in the news over the last few years, announcing donations to benefit veterans. It billed itself as a charity, even calling its storefront operations fundraising centers. But Bailey says that was lie.
BAILEY: Our investigators believe that the reality is that each gambling center is operated by the owners of for-profit agencies who funnel the bulk of the money back to themselves.
ALLEN: Over the last several years, investigators say, Allied Veterans took in nearly $300 million. But less than two percent, authorities say, went to veterans groups or other charities. Bailey says there are still more arrests likely to come in this investigation into Allied Veterans, including possibly public officials.
BAILEY: Our investigators believe that large sums of money have been spent by Allied Veterans of the World on lobbying efforts and donations to political campaigns.
ALLEN: Among those who may have received money from the group is Florida Governor Rick Scott. Scott says the Republican Party of Florida has looked but found no record that his inaugural committee received $25,000 from Allied Veterans, as some news organizations have reported. But Scott says his campaign organizations are just beginning their own investigations.
GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT: I have asked Let's Get to Work! and Rick Scott for Governor to immediately identify any contributions from Allied Veterans or the affiliated companies named in this investigation.
ALLEN: Scott says he won't start considering a replacement for Lieutenant Governor Carroll until the current legislative session ends in May.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.