SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — The leader of a veterans’ charity that prosecutors say was a $300 million gambling operation entered a no-contest plea to running an illegally lottery on Friday, a decision that will allow him to skip prison time but likely will make him a star witness at the trials of dozens of defendants still facing criminal charges.
Jerry Bass, the national commander of Allied Veterans of the World, entered a no-contest plea to two counts of operating an illegal lottery. Bass may testify as a witness for the prosecution and defense during the trial of other defendants, which is set to start next month, said his attorney, Charles Hobbs.
“This allows him the opportunity to move forward with his life,” Hobbs said. “It’s important for him to move forward and not have to deal with the specter of an eight-week trial.”
Another defendant, John Hessong, was given the opportunity to enter a pretrial diversion program.
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.
The Florida Legislature banned the operations known as Internet cafes after the arrests of the 57 Allied Veterans defendants.
Allied Veterans ran nearly 50 Internet parlors in Florida with computerized slot machine-style games and gave about $6 million to veterans out of nearly $300 million in profits. Investigators said much of the money went to charity leaders, who spent much of it on boats, beachfront condos and vehicles such as Maseratis, Ferraris and Porsches.
Bass never became rich as the leader of the group, Hobbs said, who added that he didn’t know where the money went.
“His heart has always been in the right place,” Hobbs said.
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