JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The employees and customers of 19 local Internet cafes raided by police Tuesday had hoped the doors would soon open again, but after boxes of paperwork and countless computers were seized, they quickly realized the investigation could continue for many more weeks.
The raid was part of a local, state and federal investigation that began in 2007, and ultimately targeted 51 cyber cafes across the state operated by Allied Veterans of the World, resulting in multiple arrests.
The management claimed to give a large percentage of the millions raised every year back to charitable veterans organizations.
"I knew it was going to happen sooner or later," said Eric Ross, the son of a veteran that never believed the proceeds from sweepstakes promoted by the cafe were going to groups that supported his father, a 22-year Navy vet.
"The sign does say 'vets helping vets,' but that's not true. They've been doing this a long time so it's time now that it's actually catching up with them."
Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney Randy Erler has handled multiple RICO (racketeer influence and corrupt organization) cases in the past, and says he's not surprised it has taken years for investigators to gather enough evidence to move forward with shutting the cafes down.
"They have to prove that those computers were being used for some illegal activity and everybody knew it."
He is surprised, however, at the people who are accused of being involved, including police officers and lawyers who should know the law.
"Are they innocent and they've done nothing wrong and it is for charity? Is it criminal and they've got a loophole to get out of it? I guess, only time will tell."