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Internet Cafe

Before the city's coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St.

Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005. Curious about its history, we dove back in time, dug up some old photos, and talked to a couple regulars. Here's what we learned. 

566 Haight is presently home to Laundry Locker, but before it was painted black and filled with laundry kiosks, its storefront was a dark rust red. Inside was a large circular table with outlets for laptops, and lining the walls were several Internet stations, each with their own desktop computer. 

Horseshoe was part of SF Net, an "electronic bulletin board system" that offered patrons coin-operated public access computers. Created in 1991, the system filled a niche, since many people didn't have home computers. SF Net created chat rooms and message boards to allow its patrons to talk to each other, and provided access to games through FidoNet.

Many of the coffee shops that operated under SF Net are still around today, like BrainWash in SoMa, Caffe Roma in North Beach, and Muddy Waters. But at the time, communicating with other people via the Internet was a new, fantastical idea, as evidenced by this amusing Primetime segment from 1993, which features Horseshoe Cafe at the 3:10 mark:

Horseshoe was the Lower Haight holdout, open from 6am to midnight every day and offering P.O. boxes, faxing, scanning, copying and printing services in addition to Internet access (which, towards its final days at least, cost $7 an hour). 

"[Owner] Robert could always be found sipping from a yerba mate gourd from his native Paraguay," remembered Eddie Codel, who lived in the neighborhood. "He walked with bit of a limp and ruled with an iron fist when he found it necessary. He had no time or temper to deal with anyone who acted shady or made demands of him. It was his way or back out on Haight Street." [Note: as commenter Michele notes, the cafe was owned from 1990 to 1997 by Frank Sweis—it seems Robert may have taken over later, but feel free to let us know if you know more about the business' ownership.]

Robert, the owner of Horseshoe Cafe (Photo: Eddie Codel/Flickr)

"My friends’ favorite thing to do was go to the Horseshoe for coffee and hang out there until Toronado opened across the street," Alisa Scerrato (a Hoodline contributor) told us. "I remember is how strong the coffee was, like rocket fuel. My friends used to joke around that you had to have a few beers after drinking coffee at the Horseshoe just to balance yourself out."

A jam session outside Horse Shoe Cafe, 1997 (Photo: Tono Rondone)

"The thing I remember most is flyers all over the walls at the Horseshoe advertising support groups for crystal meth," said Scerrato. "A certain type of crowd definitely hung out there, and it’s not to say they were all strung out on meth by any means, but there was definitely a strong presence of it—you could sense it, and not just by the flyers. I also remember a lot of ads for AIDS support groups on the walls." [Note: Scerrato clarifies in the comments that she "didn't mean to insinuate that the Horeshoe was full of tweakers by any means—it attracted a very diverse crowd."]

But Horseshoe Cafe wasn't just host to the musicians and degenerates of bygone Lower Haight. It was also campaign headquarters for former District 5 Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, who ran for Mayor in 2003 to replace two-term Mayor Willie Brown. 

Photo: Scott Beale/Flickr

Gonzalez was a late horse in the race, but managed to secure endorsements from the Bicycle Coalition, the Green Party, and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. After a long an arduous campaign, Gonzalez lost to Gavin Newsom, with the city split 47.2 percent to 52.8 percent.

Long legacy though it had, Horseshoe Cafe's tenure ended in flames. The building caught fire in May of 2005, and the damage was extensive. 


A three-alarm fire took out two apartments and Horseshoe in 2005 (Photo: Salim Virji/Flickr)

"A faulty fan in the bathroom was the culprit," said Codel. "Robert, the owner, said he didn't want to reopen." And thus ended the life of the Lower Haight's, and maybe the nation's, very first Internet cafe.

Do you have any memories—good or bad—of Horseshoe? Any other long-gone Lower Haight businesses that you wish were still around (hint: here's a few from the 1990s)? If so, let us know in the comments.

Before the city's coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St.

Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005. Curious about its history, we dove back in time, dug up some old photos, and talked to a couple regulars. Here's what we learned. 

566 Haight is presently home to Laundry Locker, but before it was painted black and filled with laundry kiosks, its storefront was a dark rust red. Inside was a large circular table with outlets for laptops, and lining the walls were several Internet stations, each with their own desktop computer. 

Horseshoe was part of SF Net, an "electronic bulletin board system" that offered patrons coin-operated public access computers. Created in 1991, the system filled a niche, since many people didn't have home computers. SF Net created chat rooms and message boards to allow its patrons to talk to each other, and provided access to games through FidoNet.

Many of the coffee shops that operated under SF Net are still around today, like BrainWash in SoMa, Caffe Roma in North Beach, and Muddy Waters. But at the time, communicating with other people via the Internet was a new, fantastical idea, as evidenced by this amusing Primetime segment from 1993, which features Horseshoe Cafe at the 3:10 mark:

Horseshoe was the Lower Haight holdout, open from 6am to midnight every day and offering P.O. boxes, faxing, scanning, copying and printing services in addition to Internet access (which, towards its final days at least, cost $7 an hour). 

"[Owner] Robert could always be found sipping from a yerba mate gourd from his native Paraguay," remembered Eddie Codel, who lived in the neighborhood. "He walked with bit of a limp and ruled with an iron fist when he found it necessary. He had no time or temper to deal with anyone who acted shady or made demands of him. It was his way or back out on Haight Street." [Note: as commenter Michele notes, the cafe was owned from 1990 to 1997 by Frank Sweis—it seems Robert may have taken over later, but feel free to let us know if you know more about the business' ownership.]

Robert, the owner of Horseshoe Cafe (Photo: Eddie Codel/Flickr)

"My friends’ favorite thing to do was go to the Horseshoe for coffee and hang out there until Toronado opened across the street," Alisa Scerrato (a Hoodline contributor) told us. "I remember is how strong the coffee was, like rocket fuel. My friends used to joke around that you had to have a few beers after drinking coffee at the Horseshoe just to balance yourself out."

A jam session outside Horse Shoe Cafe, 1997 (Photo: Tono Rondone)

"The thing I remember most is flyers all over the walls at the Horseshoe advertising support groups for crystal meth," said Scerrato. "A certain type of crowd definitely hung out there, and it’s not to say they were all strung out on meth by any means, but there was definitely a strong presence of it—you could sense it, and not just by the flyers. I also remember a lot of ads for AIDS support groups on the walls." [Note: Scerrato clarifies in the comments that she "didn't mean to insinuate that the Horeshoe was full of tweakers by any means—it attracted a very diverse crowd."]

But Horseshoe Cafe wasn't just host to the musicians and degenerates of bygone Lower Haight. It was also campaign headquarters for former District 5 Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, who ran for Mayor in 2003 to replace two-term Mayor Willie Brown. 

Photo: Scott Beale/Flickr

Gonzalez was a late horse in the race, but managed to secure endorsements from the Bicycle Coalition, the Green Party, and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. After a long an arduous campaign, Gonzalez lost to Gavin Newsom, with the city split 47.2 percent to 52.8 percent.

Long legacy though it had, Horseshoe Cafe's tenure ended in flames. The building caught fire in May of 2005, and the damage was extensive. 


A three-alarm fire took out two apartments and Horseshoe in 2005 (Photo: Salim Virji/Flickr)

"A faulty fan in the bathroom was the culprit," said Codel. "Robert, the owner, said he didn't want to reopen." And thus ended the life of the Lower Haight's, and maybe the nation's, very first Internet cafe.

Do you have any memories—good or bad—of Horseshoe? Any other long-gone Lower Haight businesses that you wish were still around (hint: here's a few from the 1990s)? If so, let us know in the comments.


Want to help Hoodline and possibly win a $100 restaurant gift certificate? Take our reader survey today!

Before the city's coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St.

Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005. Curious about its history, we dove back in time, dug up some old photos, and talked to a couple regulars. Here's what we learned. 

566 Haight is presently home to Laundry Locker, but before it was painted black and filled with laundry kiosks, its storefront was a dark rust red. Inside was a large circular table with outlets for laptops, and lining the walls were several Internet stations, each with their own desktop computer. 

Horseshoe was part of SF Net, an "electronic bulletin board system" that offered patrons coin-operated public access computers. Created in 1991, the system filled a niche, since many people didn't have home computers. SF Net created chat rooms and message boards to allow its patrons to talk to each other, and provided access to games through FidoNet.

Many of the coffee shops that operated under SF Net are still around today, like BrainWash in SoMa, Caffe Roma in North Beach, and Muddy Waters. But at the time, communicating with other people via the Internet was a new, fantastical idea, as evidenced by this amusing Primetime segment from 1993, which features Horseshoe Cafe at the 3:10 mark:

Horseshoe was the Lower Haight holdout, open from 6am to midnight every day and offering P.O. boxes, faxing, scanning, copying and printing services in addition to Internet access (which, towards its final days at least, cost $7 an hour). 

"[Owner] Robert could always be found sipping from a yerba mate gourd from his native Paraguay," remembered Eddie Codel, who lived in the neighborhood. "He walked with bit of a limp and ruled with an iron fist when he found it necessary. He had no time or temper to deal with anyone who acted shady or made demands of him. It was his way or back out on Haight Street." [Note: as commenter Michele notes, the cafe was owned from 1990 to 1997 by Frank Sweis—it seems Robert may have taken over later, but feel free to let us know if you know more about the business' ownership.]

Robert, the owner of Horseshoe Cafe (Photo: Eddie Codel/Flickr)

"My friends’ favorite thing to do was go to the Horseshoe for coffee and hang out there until Toronado opened across the street," Alisa Scerrato (a Hoodline contributor) told us. "I remember is how strong the coffee was, like rocket fuel. My friends used to joke around that you had to have a few beers after drinking coffee at the Horseshoe just to balance yourself out."

A jam session outside Horse Shoe Cafe, 1997 (Photo: Tono Rondone)

"The thing I remember most is flyers all over the walls at the Horseshoe advertising support groups for crystal meth," said Scerrato. "A certain type of crowd definitely hung out there, and it’s not to say they were all strung out on meth by any means, but there was definitely a strong presence of it—you could sense it, and not just by the flyers. I also remember a lot of ads for AIDS support groups on the walls." [Note: Scerrato clarifies in the comments that she "didn't mean to insinuate that the Horeshoe was full of tweakers by any means—it attracted a very diverse crowd."]

But Horseshoe Cafe wasn't just host to the musicians and degenerates of bygone Lower Haight. It was also campaign headquarters for former District 5 Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, who ran for Mayor in 2003 to replace two-term Mayor Willie Brown. 

Photo: Scott Beale/Flickr

Gonzalez was a late horse in the race, but managed to secure endorsements from the Bicycle Coalition, the Green Party, and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. After a long an arduous campaign, Gonzalez lost to Gavin Newsom, with the city split 47.2 percent to 52.8 percent.

Long legacy though it had, Horseshoe Cafe's tenure ended in flames. The building caught fire in May of 2005, and the damage was extensive. 


A three-alarm fire took out two apartments and Horseshoe in 2005 (Photo: Salim Virji/Flickr)

"A faulty fan in the bathroom was the culprit," said Codel. "Robert, the owner, said he didn't want to reopen." And thus ended the life of the Lower Haight's, and maybe the nation's, very first Internet cafe.

Do you have any memories—good or bad—of Horseshoe? Any other long-gone Lower Haight businesses that you wish were still around (hint: here's a few from the 1990s)? If so, let us know in the comments.


Want to help Hoodline and possibly win a $100 restaurant gift certificate? Take our reader survey today!

Before the city's coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St.

Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005. Curious about its history, we dove back in time, dug up some old photos, and talked to a couple regulars. Here's what we learned. 

566 Haight is presently home to Laundry Locker, but before it was painted black and filled with laundry kiosks, its storefront was a dark rust red. Inside was a large circular table with outlets for laptops, and lining the walls were several Internet stations, each with their own desktop computer. 

Horseshoe was part of SF Net, an "electronic bulletin board system" that offered patrons coin-operated public access computers. Created in 1991, the system filled a niche, since many people didn't have home computers. SF Net created chat rooms and message boards to allow its patrons to talk to each other, and provided access to games through FidoNet.

Many of the coffee shops that operated under SF Net are still around today, like BrainWash in SoMa, Caffe Roma in North Beach, and Muddy Waters. But at the time, communicating with other people via the Internet was a new, fantastical idea, as evidenced by this amusing Primetime segment from 1993, which features Horseshoe Cafe at the 3:10 mark:

Horseshoe was the Lower Haight holdout, open from 6am to midnight every day and offering P.O. boxes, faxing, scanning, copying and printing services in addition to Internet access (which, towards its final days at least, cost $7 an hour). 

"[Owner] Robert could always be found sipping from a yerba mate gourd from his native Paraguay," remembered Eddie Codel, who lived in the neighborhood. "He walked with bit of a limp and ruled with an iron fist when he found it necessary. He had no time or temper to deal with anyone who acted shady or made demands of him. It was his way or back out on Haight Street." [Note: as commenter Michele notes, the cafe was owned from 1990 to 1997 by Frank Sweis—it seems Robert may have taken over later, but feel free to let us know if you know more about the business' ownership.]

Robert, the owner of Horseshoe Cafe (Photo: Eddie Codel/Flickr)

"My friends’ favorite thing to do was go to the Horseshoe for coffee and hang out there until Toronado opened across the street," Alisa Scerrato (a Hoodline contributor) told us. "I remember is how strong the coffee was, like rocket fuel. My friends used to joke around that you had to have a few beers after drinking coffee at the Horseshoe just to balance yourself out."

A jam session outside Horse Shoe Cafe, 1997 (Photo: Tono Rondone)

"The thing I remember most is flyers all over the walls at the Horseshoe advertising support groups for crystal meth," said Scerrato. "A certain type of crowd definitely hung out there, and it’s not to say they were all strung out on meth by any means, but there was definitely a strong presence of it—you could sense it, and not just by the flyers. I also remember a lot of ads for AIDS support groups on the walls." [Note: Scerrato clarifies in the comments that she "didn't mean to insinuate that the Horeshoe was full of tweakers by any means—it attracted a very diverse crowd."]

But Horseshoe Cafe wasn't just host to the musicians and degenerates of bygone Lower Haight. It was also campaign headquarters for former District 5 Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, who ran for Mayor in 2003 to replace two-term Mayor Willie Brown. 

Photo: Scott Beale/Flickr

Gonzalez was a late horse in the race, but managed to secure endorsements from the Bicycle Coalition, the Green Party, and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. After a long an arduous campaign, Gonzalez lost to Gavin Newsom, with the city split 47.2 percent to 52.8 percent.

Long legacy though it had, Horseshoe Cafe's tenure ended in flames. The building caught fire in May of 2005, and the damage was extensive. 


A three-alarm fire took out two apartments and Horseshoe in 2005 (Photo: Salim Virji/Flickr)

"A faulty fan in the bathroom was the culprit," said Codel. "Robert, the owner, said he didn't want to reopen." And thus ended the life of the Lower Haight's, and maybe the nation's, very first Internet cafe.

Do you have any memories—good or bad—of Horseshoe? Any other long-gone Lower Haight businesses that you wish were still around (hint: here's a few from the 1990s)? If so, let us know in the comments.


Want to help Hoodline and possibly win a $100 restaurant gift certificate? Take our reader survey today!

Prosecutors have responded to an appeal filed in the Allied Veterans of the World scandal and are standing firm that Jacksonville lawyer Kelly Mathis’ public corruption conviction was proper.

Mathis, 52, was the only person sentenced to prison in the “Internet cafe” raids that prompted several arrests. A jury convicted Mathis of racketeering, helping run a lottery and possession of an illegal slot machine or device in October 2013. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester sentenced him to six years in prison but allowed him to remain out on bond while appealing the conviction.

In court filings to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, Mathis said he was not able to properly defend himself at trial because Lester refused to allow him to introduce evidence that would have proved his innocence. Mathis, the former president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, repeatedly contended that what Allied was doing wasn’t gambling and said Lester wouldn’t let him call witnesses who agreed with him.

“At trial the prosecution repeatedly told the jurors that they should convict appellant Mathis because he knew the Internet cafes were illegal,” according to the appeals brief filed by Tallahassee attorneys Peter Webster and Michael Ufferman. “However, the trial court prevented appellant Mathis from presenting his side of the case — that, as a lawyer, he was duty bound to advocate for his clients so long as he reasonably believed that their legal position was at least fairly debatable or nonfrivolous.”

But in court filings Assistant Attorney General Diana Bock said Lester was correct to limit Mathis’ claim that the gaming centers were legal, and those claims “would serve only to confuse and mislead the jury.”

Mathis was one of 57 people arrested in the case. Prosecutors said all the defendants were involved with a $300 million gambling ring set up to look like a veterans charity.

Authorities said the St. Augustine-based organization operated dozens of gaming centers throughout Florida, pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars and engaged in illegal gambling. The arrests prompted the Legislature to ban the storefront centers and resulted in the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had ties to Allied but was never charged.

Mathis, who was the lawyer for Allied, said under Florida law Allied was offering sweepstakes, not gambling. Prosecutors said Mathis knew it was gambling, and his opinions were part of a criminal conspiracy to cover up what was going on.

Under Florida law, sweepstakes are not considered gambling if they are used to bring someone into a business that sells a legitimate product. That’s how businesses such as McDonald’s are able to offer games of chance without being shut down for promoting gambling.

Prosecutors insisted that the Internet time was not a legitimate product because everyone came to gamble, and no one wanted to get on the Internet. During the trial, prosecutors presented people who had purchased hundreds of hours of Internet time they had never used because they really came to gamble.

“Appellant’s operation involved selling a sham product as a ruse to legitimize gambling activity so such a comparison would be distracting and confusing to the jury,” Bock said.

Lawyers whom Mathis sought to call as witnesses included former Volusia County prosecutor Daniel Leising, Allied local counsel Karen Foxman, Jacksonville Deputy General Counsel Steven Rohan and Jacksonville compliance officer Mel Cook. Lawyers for Mathis said all those attorneys had researched Internet cafes and agreed they were legal.

Prohibiting those witnesses from testifying violated Mathis’ constitutional right to a fair trial, Webster and Ufferman said.

Bock argued that an individual’s interpretation of the law wasn’t valid, what mattered is what the law actually said, and the state proved at trial that Mathis was violating the law.

Lawyers for Mathis also said Lester was wrong in refusing to dismiss a juror who admitted she had family members who’d struggled with gambling addictions.

That juror also said she could be fair in assessing Mathis’ guilt or innocence, Bock countered in her court filing.

Attorneys for Mathis will now get to respond to what the state said. Oral arguments will likely occur before the appellate court issues a ruling.

Everyone else arrested in the case had their charges dismissed or cut deals that did not involve prison. Mathis insisted he was innocent and said he wouldn’t take any deal before he went to trial.

Mathis’ license to practice law is suspended and he faces possible disbarment if his conviction holds up. In a February 2015 interview with the Times-Union, Mathis said he is doing some volunteering at Jacksonville Legal Aid, and he has done some paralegal work and some medical sales over the phone, while working on his appeal.

 

Larry Hannan: (904) 359-4470

Prosecutors have responded to an appeal filed in the Allied Veterans of the World scandal and are standing firm that Jacksonville lawyer Kelly Mathis’ public corruption conviction was proper.

Mathis, 52, was the only person sentenced to prison in the “Internet cafe” raids that prompted several arrests. A jury convicted Mathis of racketeering, helping run a lottery and possession of an illegal slot machine or device in October 2013. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester sentenced him to six years in prison but allowed him to remain out on bond while appealing the conviction.

In court filings to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, Mathis said he was not able to properly defend himself at trial because Lester refused to allow him to introduce evidence that would have proved his innocence. Mathis, the former president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, repeatedly contended that what Allied was doing wasn’t gambling and said Lester wouldn’t let him call witnesses who agreed with him.

“At trial the prosecution repeatedly told the jurors that they should convict appellant Mathis because he knew the Internet cafes were illegal,” according to the appeals brief filed by Tallahassee attorneys Peter Webster and Michael Ufferman. “However, the trial court prevented appellant Mathis from presenting his side of the case — that, as a lawyer, he was duty bound to advocate for his clients so long as he reasonably believed that their legal position was at least fairly debatable or nonfrivolous.”

But in court filings Assistant Attorney General Diana Bock said Lester was correct to limit Mathis’ claim that the gaming centers were legal, and those claims “would serve only to confuse and mislead the jury.”

Mathis was one of 57 people arrested in the case. Prosecutors said all the defendants were involved with a $300 million gambling ring set up to look like a veterans charity.

Authorities said the St. Augustine-based organization operated dozens of gaming centers throughout Florida, pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars and engaged in illegal gambling. The arrests prompted the Legislature to ban the storefront centers and resulted in the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had ties to Allied but was never charged.

Mathis, who was the lawyer for Allied, said under Florida law Allied was offering sweepstakes, not gambling. Prosecutors said Mathis knew it was gambling, and his opinions were part of a criminal conspiracy to cover up what was going on.

Under Florida law, sweepstakes are not considered gambling if they are used to bring someone into a business that sells a legitimate product. That’s how businesses such as McDonald’s are able to offer games of chance without being shut down for promoting gambling.

Prosecutors insisted that the Internet time was not a legitimate product because everyone came to gamble, and no one wanted to get on the Internet. During the trial, prosecutors presented people who had purchased hundreds of hours of Internet time they had never used because they really came to gamble.

“Appellant’s operation involved selling a sham product as a ruse to legitimize gambling activity so such a comparison would be distracting and confusing to the jury,” Bock said.

Lawyers whom Mathis sought to call as witnesses included former Volusia County prosecutor Daniel Leising, Allied local counsel Karen Foxman, Jacksonville Deputy General Counsel Steven Rohan and Jacksonville compliance officer Mel Cook. Lawyers for Mathis said all those attorneys had researched Internet cafes and agreed they were legal.

Prohibiting those witnesses from testifying violated Mathis’ constitutional right to a fair trial, Webster and Ufferman said.

Bock argued that an individual’s interpretation of the law wasn’t valid, what mattered is what the law actually said, and the state proved at trial that Mathis was violating the law.

Lawyers for Mathis also said Lester was wrong in refusing to dismiss a juror who admitted she had family members who’d struggled with gambling addictions.

That juror also said she could be fair in assessing Mathis’ guilt or innocence, Bock countered in her court filing.

Attorneys for Mathis will now get to respond to what the state said. Oral arguments will likely occur before the appellate court issues a ruling.

Everyone else arrested in the case had their charges dismissed or cut deals that did not involve prison. Mathis insisted he was innocent and said he wouldn’t take any deal before he went to trial.

Mathis’ license to practice law is suspended and he faces possible disbarment if his conviction holds up. In a February 2015 interview with the Times-Union, Mathis said he is doing some volunteering at Jacksonville Legal Aid, and he has done some paralegal work and some medical sales over the phone, while working on his appeal.

 

Larry Hannan: (904) 359-4470

Prosecutors have responded to an appeal filed in the Allied Veterans of the World scandal and are standing firm that Jacksonville lawyer Kelly Mathis’ public corruption conviction was proper.

Mathis, 52, was the only person sentenced to prison in the “Internet cafe” raids that prompted several arrests. A jury convicted Mathis of racketeering, helping run a lottery and possession of an illegal slot machine or device in October 2013. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester sentenced him to six years in prison but allowed him to remain out on bond while appealing the conviction.

In court filings to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, Mathis said he was not able to properly defend himself at trial because Lester refused to allow him to introduce evidence that would have proved his innocence. Mathis, the former president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, repeatedly contended that what Allied was doing wasn’t gambling and said Lester wouldn’t let him call witnesses who agreed with him.

“At trial the prosecution repeatedly told the jurors that they should convict appellant Mathis because he knew the Internet cafes were illegal,” according to the appeals brief filed by Tallahassee attorneys Peter Webster and Michael Ufferman. “However, the trial court prevented appellant Mathis from presenting his side of the case — that, as a lawyer, he was duty bound to advocate for his clients so long as he reasonably believed that their legal position was at least fairly debatable or nonfrivolous.”

But in court filings Assistant Attorney General Diana Bock said Lester was correct to limit Mathis’ claim that the gaming centers were legal, and those claims “would serve only to confuse and mislead the jury.”

Mathis was one of 57 people arrested in the case. Prosecutors said all the defendants were involved with a $300 million gambling ring set up to look like a veterans charity.

Authorities said the St. Augustine-based organization operated dozens of gaming centers throughout Florida, pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars and engaged in illegal gambling. The arrests prompted the Legislature to ban the storefront centers and resulted in the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had ties to Allied but was never charged.

Mathis, who was the lawyer for Allied, said under Florida law Allied was offering sweepstakes, not gambling. Prosecutors said Mathis knew it was gambling, and his opinions were part of a criminal conspiracy to cover up what was going on.

Under Florida law, sweepstakes are not considered gambling if they are used to bring someone into a business that sells a legitimate product. That’s how businesses such as McDonald’s are able to offer games of chance without being shut down for promoting gambling.

Prosecutors insisted that the Internet time was not a legitimate product because everyone came to gamble, and no one wanted to get on the Internet. During the trial, prosecutors presented people who had purchased hundreds of hours of Internet time they had never used because they really came to gamble.

“Appellant’s operation involved selling a sham product as a ruse to legitimize gambling activity so such a comparison would be distracting and confusing to the jury,” Bock said.

Lawyers whom Mathis sought to call as witnesses included former Volusia County prosecutor Daniel Leising, Allied local counsel Karen Foxman, Jacksonville Deputy General Counsel Steven Rohan and Jacksonville compliance officer Mel Cook. Lawyers for Mathis said all those attorneys had researched Internet cafes and agreed they were legal.

Prohibiting those witnesses from testifying violated Mathis’ constitutional right to a fair trial, Webster and Ufferman said.

Bock argued that an individual’s interpretation of the law wasn’t valid, what mattered is what the law actually said, and the state proved at trial that Mathis was violating the law.

Lawyers for Mathis also said Lester was wrong in refusing to dismiss a juror who admitted she had family members who’d struggled with gambling addictions.

That juror also said she could be fair in assessing Mathis’ guilt or innocence, Bock countered in her court filing.

Attorneys for Mathis will now get to respond to what the state said. Oral arguments will likely occur before the appellate court issues a ruling.

Everyone else arrested in the case had their charges dismissed or cut deals that did not involve prison. Mathis insisted he was innocent and said he wouldn’t take any deal before he went to trial.

Mathis’ license to practice law is suspended and he faces possible disbarment if his conviction holds up. In a February 2015 interview with the Times-Union, Mathis said he is doing some volunteering at Jacksonville Legal Aid, and he has done some paralegal work and some medical sales over the phone, while working on his appeal.

 

Larry Hannan: (904) 359-4470

Ahhh, the smell of cigarette smoke trapped in a confined space. Nothing conjures up the immediate image of the typical Internet cafe of my early years in Turkey better.

While smoking inside has theoretically been banned since 2009, it is still possible to find places here and there that seemed to have missed the memo. Or found ways around it (ahem, all cafes and restaurants that now have an enclosed “outdoor” area for smokers). God forbid the smokers catch a draft. When I moved to Turkey 13 years ago, I had no choice but to go to these smoky Internet cafes in order to check email and access anything online. A teacher, I lived in lodgings provided by my school in İstanbul. The flat had the basics, but did not have TV, Internet, or phone. I brought along my laptop, an antique now, that could only access the Internet with a cable connection. No wi-fi option even if there were hotspots back in the day, of which there were not many. So, like many of the other foreign teachers I knew, we had to trek to our local Internet cafe to get anything done.

Before social media really took off, it wasn't too bad. I would go and check my email at the cafe down the street every other day or so, usually spending about a half-hour to an hour there. For about TL 1-2 (TL 1-2 million in those days) per half an hour, the fee was reasonable. What was bad was the smoke coming from the many cigarettes being smoked by the mostly young male population there. The majority were there to play some game or other, and the cafes were constantly loud with shouting as the guys played, while those of us checking our emails or using the net for different reasons tried to do as much as we could quickly, to escape. The place was in general dirty, the keyboards caked with gunk. So out of place in a country where many are so fastidious they even clean the sidewalks outside their shops every morning. But the Internet cafes were in general pretty grimy. The only bright spot in our local one was the owner's dog, a street mutt that adored me and would come and sit across my feet while I worked, occasionally reaching down to scratch him between the ears.

Imagine my joy when a new, small, Internet cafe opened in the bottom floor of our building. Previously it had been a small store that sold bric-a-brac, but now it had been nicely re-done and had four computers with desks. Small, but obviously they were just getting started. Excited, I ran upstairs to tell my roommate, also an American woman. We were both so relieved to have a cafe that was closer, and better yet, was still small and unknown. Surely we would be able to enjoy it in peace before the gamers discovered it. So we went down to test it out. Between the two of us, we only had a basic grasp of Turkish. We asked the guy running the place, "Internet var mı?" (Do you have Internet?) He looked puzzled by our question and I felt foolish. What a stupid question. Of course they had Internet, this was an Internet café, after all. Geesh. What an insult. So I tried a different tactic. I sat at the desk, pointed to the computer, and asked how much for one hour. The man then said a lot of stuff to me that I did not understand. My roommate Chelsea, from the next desk, looked at me with confusion. "I think he might be trying to explain that since they are new, the Internet might be a bit slow." I sighed. I was really hoping for a good chat over Messenger with some friends back home (ah, the pre-Skype days). The guy repeated himself, but still we didn't understand. He finally gave up, but was smiling as he turned on our computers and showed us how to connect. Then left us in peace for the next two hours. So happy to have a quiet place to e mail, time passed quickly and pleasantly. Chelsea got hungry and asked if they had "tost" (grilled cheese) and "çay” (tea). These were usual staples at Internet cafes, so not an odd request, yet the guy seemed perplexed.


'Burası Türkiye'


"Chelsea!" I hissed. "This place is so new, they might not have a toaster yet!" That did seem to be the problem as the guy went to the sandwich shop next door and came back with a grilled cheese for Chelsea. Burası Türkiye, we grinned, where stuff like this happens all the time. At the end of our session, we went to pay. When I asked how much, the guy seemed confused. I motioned towards the teas and grilled cheese wrappers, indicating how much for everything. He still seemed confused, but threw his hands up in frustration. We paid the amount he asked for, which was a little bit pricier than the other cafe, but totally worth it in our opinion. Over the next few months we continued to enjoy our Internet cafe. For it seemed we were the only patrons. We thought we were so smart, that only we knew there was a new cafe on the block. The guy was always nice to us, his mom even came and sat with us once, giving us some flaky borek she had made that day. All was well with the world. Until I started taking serious Turkish lessons.

While I knew that “bilgisayar” meant computer in Turkish, I failed to grasp the concept that a “biligisayar hastanesi” was in fact a computer repair shop. And the new Internet cafe that Chelsea and I thought was an Internet cafe was actually a computer repair shop. No wonder there were never any other people there! I think Chelsea and I always knew there was something strange, but we just didn't want to believe it. I was mortified. There we were, for weeks, sitting in this guy's office, indeed at his desk, halting his work, while we emailed and used Messenger. Yes, he charged us, I think because he really didn't know what to do with us at first. These two foreign girls arrive on his office doorstep the day he opens, asking to use the Internet. Politely, he lets us. Then we ask for grilled cheese sandwiches. So he runs out and gets us some. Then we ask to pay him. So he charges us. Then we come back every day for weeks. It was crazy! For him, it was much easier to let us use his Internet rather than spend time explaining everything. We were probably the laughingstock of the whole neighborhood. A true Burası Türkiye moment, but in a good way. Things like this happen every day in Turkey, where the ingrained rules of hospitality trump logic. He should have thrown us out that first day. In the US most likely the police would have been called. But here in Turkey we were allowed to use his computer, and he even went out and fetched grilled cheese for us. Just another day in our yabancı life here in Turkey.

Elle Loftis is an American expat writer and mother living in Izmit. Reach her for questions or comments at [email protected]

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Ahhh, the smell of cigarette smoke trapped in a confined space. Nothing conjures up the immediate image of the typical Internet cafe of my early years in Turkey better.

While smoking inside has theoretically been banned since 2009, it is still possible to find places here and there that seemed to have missed the memo. Or found ways around it (ahem, all cafes and restaurants that now have an enclosed “outdoor” area for smokers). God forbid the smokers catch a draft. When I moved to Turkey 13 years ago, I had no choice but to go to these smoky Internet cafes in order to check email and access anything online. A teacher, I lived in lodgings provided by my school in İstanbul. The flat had the basics, but did not have TV, Internet, or phone. I brought along my laptop, an antique now, that could only access the Internet with a cable connection. No wi-fi option even if there were hotspots back in the day, of which there were not many. So, like many of the other foreign teachers I knew, we had to trek to our local Internet cafe to get anything done.

Before social media really took off, it wasn't too bad. I would go and check my email at the cafe down the street every other day or so, usually spending about a half-hour to an hour there. For about TL 1-2 (TL 1-2 million in those days) per half an hour, the fee was reasonable. What was bad was the smoke coming from the many cigarettes being smoked by the mostly young male population there. The majority were there to play some game or other, and the cafes were constantly loud with shouting as the guys played, while those of us checking our emails or using the net for different reasons tried to do as much as we could quickly, to escape. The place was in general dirty, the keyboards caked with gunk. So out of place in a country where many are so fastidious they even clean the sidewalks outside their shops every morning. But the Internet cafes were in general pretty grimy. The only bright spot in our local one was the owner's dog, a street mutt that adored me and would come and sit across my feet while I worked, occasionally reaching down to scratch him between the ears.

Imagine my joy when a new, small, Internet cafe opened in the bottom floor of our building. Previously it had been a small store that sold bric-a-brac, but now it had been nicely re-done and had four computers with desks. Small, but obviously they were just getting started. Excited, I ran upstairs to tell my roommate, also an American woman. We were both so relieved to have a cafe that was closer, and better yet, was still small and unknown. Surely we would be able to enjoy it in peace before the gamers discovered it. So we went down to test it out. Between the two of us, we only had a basic grasp of Turkish. We asked the guy running the place, "Internet var mı?" (Do you have Internet?) He looked puzzled by our question and I felt foolish. What a stupid question. Of course they had Internet, this was an Internet café, after all. Geesh. What an insult. So I tried a different tactic. I sat at the desk, pointed to the computer, and asked how much for one hour. The man then said a lot of stuff to me that I did not understand. My roommate Chelsea, from the next desk, looked at me with confusion. "I think he might be trying to explain that since they are new, the Internet might be a bit slow." I sighed. I was really hoping for a good chat over Messenger with some friends back home (ah, the pre-Skype days). The guy repeated himself, but still we didn't understand. He finally gave up, but was smiling as he turned on our computers and showed us how to connect. Then left us in peace for the next two hours. So happy to have a quiet place to e mail, time passed quickly and pleasantly. Chelsea got hungry and asked if they had "tost" (grilled cheese) and "çay” (tea). These were usual staples at Internet cafes, so not an odd request, yet the guy seemed perplexed.


'Burası Türkiye'


"Chelsea!" I hissed. "This place is so new, they might not have a toaster yet!" That did seem to be the problem as the guy went to the sandwich shop next door and came back with a grilled cheese for Chelsea. Burası Türkiye, we grinned, where stuff like this happens all the time. At the end of our session, we went to pay. When I asked how much, the guy seemed confused. I motioned towards the teas and grilled cheese wrappers, indicating how much for everything. He still seemed confused, but threw his hands up in frustration. We paid the amount he asked for, which was a little bit pricier than the other cafe, but totally worth it in our opinion. Over the next few months we continued to enjoy our Internet cafe. For it seemed we were the only patrons. We thought we were so smart, that only we knew there was a new cafe on the block. The guy was always nice to us, his mom even came and sat with us once, giving us some flaky borek she had made that day. All was well with the world. Until I started taking serious Turkish lessons.

While I knew that “bilgisayar” meant computer in Turkish, I failed to grasp the concept that a “biligisayar hastanesi” was in fact a computer repair shop. And the new Internet cafe that Chelsea and I thought was an Internet cafe was actually a computer repair shop. No wonder there were never any other people there! I think Chelsea and I always knew there was something strange, but we just didn't want to believe it. I was mortified. There we were, for weeks, sitting in this guy's office, indeed at his desk, halting his work, while we emailed and used Messenger. Yes, he charged us, I think because he really didn't know what to do with us at first. These two foreign girls arrive on his office doorstep the day he opens, asking to use the Internet. Politely, he lets us. Then we ask for grilled cheese sandwiches. So he runs out and gets us some. Then we ask to pay him. So he charges us. Then we come back every day for weeks. It was crazy! For him, it was much easier to let us use his Internet rather than spend time explaining everything. We were probably the laughingstock of the whole neighborhood. A true Burası Türkiye moment, but in a good way. Things like this happen every day in Turkey, where the ingrained rules of hospitality trump logic. He should have thrown us out that first day. In the US most likely the police would have been called. But here in Turkey we were allowed to use his computer, and he even went out and fetched grilled cheese for us. Just another day in our yabancı life here in Turkey.

Elle Loftis is an American expat writer and mother living in Izmit. Reach her for questions or comments at [email protected]