News Column

Florida Lt. Governor Resign Admist Scandal

March 13, 2013

Tia Mitchell and Mary Ellen Klas

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned amid law enforcement questions about a Florida Internet sweepstakes company at the center of a nationwide criminal investigation.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement interviewed Carroll Monday about her connections to the company, Allied Veterans of the World, a Florida-based non-profit that operates a chain of Internet cafes.

Carroll once owned a public relations firm that represented Allied Veterans, and she did work for the company at the same time she served in the Florida House. She resigned Tuesday.

It's unclear if Carroll is the target of any criminal charges. Attorney General Pam Bondi and law enforcement officials have scheduled a 2:30 p.m. press conference in Orlando to discuss the case. Gov. Rick Scott also has announced an afternoon press conference.

On Monday, leaders of the company and the head of Jacksonville's police union were arrested on charges of racketeering and money laundering. Investigators

Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, said in a statement, that Carroll had "consulted" for Allied Veterans while serving as a member of the Florida House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010, and had been interviewed Monday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers "regarding her work with the company."

"Lt. Gov. Carroll resigned in an effort to keep her former affiliations with the company from distracting from the administration's important work on behalf of Florida families," Hollingsworth said. "She made the right decision for the state and her family."

In her two-sentence resignation letter, Carroll made no mention of the probe or her reason for resigning.

Investigators said that Allied Veterans tried to scheme and defraud the public and governmental agencies by misrepresenting how much of its proceeds were donated to charities affiliated with Veterans Administration. The Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, FDLE and sheriff's offices in Jacksonville and elsewhere are all part of the criminal investigation.

Carroll's public relations firm, 3 N. and J.C. Corporation, is currently inactive, according to the Florida Division of Corporations. Scott's office said in 2011 that Carroll had ended her affiliation with Allied Veterans.

In 2010, Carroll was criticized for introducing legislation to legalize sweepstakes games such as those in cafes operated by Allied Veterans. Carroll later withdrew the proposed law, saying it was filed erroneously and that she wasn't interested in legalizing internet cafes, the Florida Times-Union reported.

Internet cafes are big business in Florida. Since 2007, as many as 1,000 have popped up across the state, according to industry estimates, raking in $1 billion a year.

Customers buy Internet time loaded onto a card and get free sweepstakes entries they can reveal by playing games on computer screens that mimic slot machines.

Allied is a big player in Florida. In 2011, it had 40 locations statewide. Allied has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on state lobbyists and contributed $25,000 for a Scott/Carroll inauguration event.

In addition to arrests in Jacksonville, authorities in Oklahoma have arrested the owner of a technology firm, International Internet Technologies, in connection to allegations that he made $290 million after supplying illegal gambling software in Florida and claiming the games' proceeds would benefit Allied Veterans.

Authorities in Oklahoma arrested Chase Egan Burns, 37, earlier this week. He turned himself in to sheriff's deputies in Oklahoma on a felony charge of being a fugitive from Florida, where he is facing several charges including racketeering and conspiracy, according to a formal accusation filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office. Burns' wife also has been arrested.

Court documents allege Burns and other owners of gambling units he supplied claimed that the money played and lost on the games would be donated to Allied Veterans. But authorities said the veterans group received less than 1 percent of the proceeds.

Prosecutors said they believe Burns earned more than $290 million on the gaming software and units.

His wife, Kristin Burns, 38, was arrested Monday night also on allegations of being a fugitive from Florida, where she is charged with racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering, according to Pruitt's office.

Court and jail records indicate Chase Burns was free on $500,000 bond Tuesday afternoon and his wife was released on $100,000 bond. Both are required to surrender their passports and wear a GPS tracker.

Authorities are seeking the couple's extradition to Florida to face the charges.

Chase Burns owns International Internet Technologies in Anadarko, about 60 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.

He and his wife were arrested after an investigation that spanned several years and involved the Internal Revenue Service and various law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma and Florida, including the sheriff's office in Florida's Seminole County, according to Pruitt's office.

A telephone number listed for Allied Veterans in St. Augustine, Fla., has been disconnected. Multiple emails sent by The Associated Press to an address listed on the group's website weren't returned Tuesday evening.

Along with racketeering and conspiracy charges, Chase Burns is facing multiple counts of the sale or possession of slot machines, conducting a lottery, keeping a gambling house and money laundering, according to the formal accusation filed by Pruitt's office.

Carroll's resignation ends -- at least for now -- a successful political career. She served in the House from 2003 to 2010, becoming the first African-American female Republican to be elected. Scott selected her as his running mate in September 2010. The pair took office in January 2011. In the process, she became the first African-American elected statewide in Florida and the first female elected lieutenant governor.

Democrats pounced on Carroll's resignation to bash Scott, who is up for re-election in 2014.

"Floridians expected an administration focused on solving the problems facing Florida's families, but instead got a scandal plagued Governor and a revolving staff door," said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant in a statement.

"Rick Scott and his administration have made a mockery of the Governor's office -- embarrassing Floridians while failing to accomplish his legislative priorities" she wrote. "Scott campaigned on changing Tallahassee but his first three years have been more of the same corruption and waste that taxpayers have come to expect from Florida Republicans."

The former lieutenant governor -- who is the mother of Miami Dolphins defensive back Nolan Carroll -- has been named in previous scandals.

Last year, a former aide, Carletha Cole, claimed to have found Carroll in a compromising position with a travel aide inside's Carroll's office.

Cole is charged with violating state law for allegedly giving a recording of a conversation with Carroll's chief of staff to a newspaper reporter.

Cole says she was ordered by the travel aide to find adjoining hotel rooms for Carroll when they traveled. Carroll has said previously the allegations are an attempt by Cole and her attorney to get the criminal charges against Cole dropped.

Carroll, a married mother of three, became the brunt of late-night talk show hosts when she defended herself against the allegations, telling a Tampa Bay area TV station that black women who look like her "don't engage in relationships like that." She later apologized for the remarks, which implied that black lesbians are not attractive.

Source: (c)2013 The Miami Herald Distributed by MCT Information Services

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