SANFORD, Fla. – The commander of a veterans' charity that prosecutors claim was a $300 million gambling operation is pleading no contest.
Jerry Bass on Friday entered a no contest plea to two counts of operating a lottery. The plea allows him to avoid prison time. His attorney said he was facing what could have been decades in prison for more on than 200 counts of felony and misdemeanor charges that included racketeering, operating a gambling hall and money laundering.
Bass may testify as a witness for the prosecution and defense during the trial of other defendants, which is set to start next month.
"Obviously, that many felony counts, the potential of an 8 week trial, that loomed large over a 63 year old man, so it became a situation where what can I do -that's in my best interest where I can put this behind me and go forward with my life," said Charles Hobbs, Bass' attorney.
Another defendant, John Hessong, was given the opportunity to enter a pretrial diversion program where he will avoid prison time.
Kelly Mathis, another defendant in the case, is asking the judge to dismiss charges against him. Bass will testify against Mathis when his trial starts next month, along with Johnny Duncan, who pleaded no contest last week.
'I'm innocent I practiced law, I gave legal advice, I didn't do anything wrong and I will continue to fight this case," said Mathis.
The investigation into Allied Veterans led to the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll after she was interviewed during the probe. She has denied wrongdoing and wasn't charged.
Florida Legislature banned the operations known as Internet cafes following the arrests of the 57 Allied Veterans defendants.