By Stephen Owsinski
A one-time Jacksonville, Fla, Fraternal Order of Police union president and 23-year Jacksonville law enforcement officer seemed to have plenty going for him…until his role in a $300 million racketeering and gambling operation outed him. Nelson Cuba, 50, was arrested in March 2013. On January 6, 2015, via plea agreement, Cuba was sentenced to one year house arrest and four years’ probation. No jail time allows Cuba to continue working for a Miami-based cigar distributor.
Also implicated and arrested were a prominent Jacksonville attorney and a law enforcement officer who also happened to serve as a Jacksonville FOP union VP.
The investigation involved the IRS, Secret Service, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, and Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. The breadth of investigative work spanned several states, necessitated 51 warrant applications, and targeted 57 suspects.
Under the guise of sustaining military veterans, Cuba and his cohorts operated Allied Veterans of the World (AVW), a St. Augustine-based “charitable” network. According to federal officials, AVW was a sham and dubiously touted as an “internet cafe” which was nothing more than an illegal gambling operation. Federal, state, and county investigators allege AVW took in a whopping $300 million and gave a mere two percent to charity (veterans).
Cuba blamed Kelly Mathis (the Jacksonville attorney arrested for his involvement in the deception) for enabling the sham. Cuba contends Mathis rendered legal interpretations of the laws pertaining to “internet cafe” operations and gave faulty legal advice to him. Court documents indicate Mathis and his law firm were paid $1.5 million by Allied Veterans of the World.
Prosecutor Nick Cox, who presented the case, stated the investigation amassed people who played slot machines and, whether at depositions and/or during court proceedings, testified to neither paying for nor signing on to computers for “internet access.” Cox produced a witness who claimed he went in to an AVW “internet cafe” as a military veteran seeking help, only to see a phalanx of slot machines emplaced for users. Befuddled by the “gambling hall,”, the military vet walked out, Cox said at a press conference.
Federal warrants asserted the slot machines at all AVW locations are only legal inside “licensed casinos” and certainly exclude “internet cafes.”
In the wake of this conglomerate sham, Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll resigned after it came to light that she was a consultant for Allied Veterans of the World. Carroll was never charged for her role as Allied’s paid consultant.
Nelson Cuba, a once-trusted policeman who, on behalf of fellow LEOs, presided over his FOP chapter in Jacksonville, now sells cigars in Miami, Fla. Pleading guilty to one count each of manufacture, sale, or possession of illegal slot machines, illegally structuring a financial transaction, and operating an illegal lottery, Cuba nevertheless skirted jail time, other racketeering-related charges, and additional counts pertaining to crimes for which he was arrested.
Another casualty of the gambling scandal is 24-year veteran Jacksonville policeman, Robbie Frietas, 50, considered to be “second in command” under Cuba. Frietas also served as the Jacksonville FOP vice president preceding Cuba’s term as its union president. Per court affidavits, Frietas endorsed documents authorizing financial transactions of a “shell company” which laundered money reportedly derived from the illegal gambling proceeds. Frietas was charged with 17 counts of gambling and racketeering related crimes, and subsequently formally retired from the Jacksonville police force.
As Cox delineated in a post-sentencing press statement, Cuba’s position as a cop and police union president was perceived by consumers as a legitimacy to AVW’s existence. Further, Cox asserts that Cuba was paid to ward-off law enforcement intrusion on AVW activities.
Former president of the Jacksonville Bar, Mathis, 50, was adjudicated “guilty” of 103 out of the 104 counts for which he was charged. Labeled as the mastermind behind the Allied Veterans gambling scandal, Mathis was sentenced in February 2014 to six years in prison.
Stemming from this monumental case, the Florida Legislature exercised an “internet cafe” moratorium so statute language could be reviewed. Interim Jacksonville FOP police union leaders auditing financial ledgers kept during the executive reign of Cuba and Frietas did not discover any discrepancies.