TAMPA - The scandal that brought down Florida’s Lieutenant Governor is growing. The I-Team is uncovering local lawmakers with ties to the so-called non-profit organization under investigation, Allied Veterans of the World.
Allied Veterans operates a chain of internet gaming cafes intended to raise money for charity. A federal investigation of Allied has led to more than 50 arrests and accusations employees were stealing millions of dollars intended for veterans.
The I-Team found 10 local state lawmakers who have received $500 or $1,000 in campaign contributions from groups headed by Chase Burns and Kelly Mathis, two people named by authorities as the ringleaders behind Allied Veterans.
State representatives Mike Fasano, Larry Ahern, Jim Boyd, Ray Pilon, Will Weatherford, and Dana Young all received money from Allied-affiliated groups, according to public records. So did state senators Arthenia Joyner, Jack Latvala, John Legg, and Nancy Detert.
Statewide, Allied-affiliated groups have given hundreds of thousands to dozens of lawmakers, judges, and political groups.
“I was not aware of it until you just told me,” said Rep. Mike Fasano, in a phone interview with I-Team investigator Michael George.
Rep. Fasano says he received donations from hundreds of individuals, and wasn’t aware of any connection to Allied. The donations to Rep. Fasano were from “Seaside Internet”, with Kelly Mathis listed as the registered agent.
Rep. Fasano said he donated all the excess money from his campaign to charity, amounting to several thousand dollars. He denied that the donation would have influenced him in any way.
“No, in fact, I had filed legislation that would have put a huge amount of regulations on these internet cafes,” Rep. Fasano said.
Rep. Fasano has tried more than once to legislate internet gaming cafes. The amount of money businesses like Allied provide to lawmakers may explain why his efforts have been unsuccessful.
The Republican Party of Florida got $331,824 from Allied-affiliated groups, and the Florida Democratic Party received $104,000. Officials with the the Republican party say they will donate $300,000 to veterans' charities. Democratic officials say they have found more than $200,000 in donations from Allied-affiliated groups, and will also be donating the entirety of the money to charity.
I-Team investigator Michael George asked former political consultant Travis Horn if it’s possible elected officials don’t always know where their checks are coming from.
“If I was a politician, I want to know who the check is coming from. I think it is incumbent on our officials to make that they know who is writing a check,” Horn said.
Horn says any candidate who learns of a connection to Allied Veterans will likely get rid of the money.
“Politicians are a little like cockroaches. When you flip the lights on, they run away,” Horn said.
Rep. Pilon also tells us he donated the excess money from his campaign to charity, amounting to about $10,000. Other lawmakers referenced in our story have yet to return calls for comment.
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