Internet cafe investigation included local sites - WFLA News Channel 8

Internet cafe investigation included local sites

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This internet cafe in Spring Hill was one of 4 in the Bay area closed after an investigation. This internet cafe in Spring Hill was one of 4 in the Bay area closed after an investigation.
SPRING HILL, FL (WFLA) -

An extensive investigation into illegal gambling and so-called Internet cafes connected to Allied Veterans of the World has some customers wondering what will happen to other sites that offer sweepstakes games.

Authorities say conspirators ran a racketeering and money laundering scheme that used shell companies and illegal gambling centers passed off as "Internet cafes" to help hide millions in gambling proceeds.

 "It's a shame what they did, now it gives a bad name for all of the others,"  Pat Fomook said about Allied Veterans of the World, which is targeted in what authorities call a $300 million conspiracy.

Authorities say the group was registered as a tax-exempt veterans organization and claimed to give proceeds to charity, but that less than 2 percent of its revenues were given to charity.

Rocco Cassela says he's been in the group's cafes and remembers seeing messages on computer screens advertising the money given to charity.

"They would have on the screen, ‘$5 million or a million dollars given'," he said.

Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned Wednesday in light of her past ties to the group. She has not been accused of wrongdoing.

The investigation, which touched other states including Oklahoma and South Carolina, included local cafes in Sarasota, Bradenton and two in Spring Hill.

Those cafes were allegedly run by a group of three men – Anthony Alascia of Spring Hill, John Cucciniello of Spring Hill, and Charles Bartlett of Hudson – associated with a company called A.V. A. Business Offices, LLC/GINLIN LLC, according to an affidavit. The three men were arrested and face charges including conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has said that while Allied Veterans was the target in the first phase of its operation, the investigation into other gambling sites continues in a second phase.

Internet cafes offering computer sweepstakes games that may resemble slot machines or other games have been under scrutiny by local governments. Hillsborough County banned them in 2011, but the cafes operate elsewhere.

In Hernando County, at least two other cafes were operating in the same plaza where one of the now-closed cafes under the GINLIN name is located.

"A lot of elderly people, citizens like to go in there because they forget their aches and pains and it gives them something to do," said Fomook, who had brought her aunt to one of the closed Spring Hill sites to see if it was open.

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