1 leader of Allied Veterans pleads no contest in Internet gambling case

State of Florida claims group ran $300M racketeering operation

SANFORD, Fla. - One of the former leaders of what the state claims was a $300 million gambling racketeering operation pleaded no contest on Wednesday to several charges.

Johnny Duncan, a former national commander of the Allied Veterans organization, pleaded no contest to four counts of maintaining an illegal lottery, one count of money laundering, each of which are third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.

The group's most prominent leader, Jerry Bass, is still pondering whether to enter a guilty plea, and was given until Aug. 23 to reach his decision. Another top official, John Hessong, reached a similar arrangement.

So far, three of the 57 people charged have reached deals for pretrial diversion, meaning they would have no criminal conviction if they successfully complete a probationary period of usually one year. Two more are expected to get pretrial diversion this afternoon, Cox said.

Those who do not enter pleas or get diversion face perhaps decades in possible prison time if convicted at trial of racketeering, money laundering and other charges.

One key defendant not entering a plea: Kelly Mathis, the Jacksonville attorney who advised Allied Veterans their Internet video games were not illegal gambling.

Mathis' attorney, Mitch Stone, said his client committed no crime and is preparing to go to trial Sept. 16 along with several of the others.

Another group of more than 40 waived their speedy trial rights and their cases will be resolved later, Cox said.

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