ORLANDO, Fla. -- Florida's lieutenant governor resigned and nearly 60 other people were charged in a scandal involving a purported veterans charity that authorities said yesterday was a front for a $300-million gambling operation.
The organization, Allied Veterans of the World, runs nearly 50 Internet parlors with computerized slot machine-style games, which are normally legal in Florida if most of the proceeds go to charity.
But investigators said the organization's executives gave precious little to veterans and lavished millions on themselves, spending it on boats, beachfront condos and Maseratis, Ferraris and Porsches.
Attorney General Pam Bondi called the alleged scam "callous" and "despicable" and said it "insults every American who ever wore a military uniform." Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was not among those charged but resigned a day after she was questioned by investigators.
The public relations firm she co-owned, 3 N&JC, did work for St. Augustine-based Allied Veterans. A Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War, Carroll also appeared in a TV ad in 2011 promoting the organization's work on behalf of veterans and their families.
Authorities refused to discuss any ties between the 53-year-old Republican and the investigation.
Carroll said in a statement that neither she nor the public relations firm was targeted in the probe, and she stepped down so that her ties to the organization would not be a distraction for Republican Gov. Rick Scott's administration.
The investigation involved 57 arrest warrants and 54 search warrants issued in Florida and five other states: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Nevada and Pennsylvania. As of midafternoon, 49 people had been arrested. Allied Veterans' 49 parlors in Florida were raided and shut down.
Authorities said they seized about 300 bank accounts containing $64.7 million, as well as sports cars and other property.
Bondi said charges to be filed next week will include racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and possession of slot machines. "It is shameful that Allied Veterans of the World allegedly attempted to use the guise of charitable organization to help veterans in order to lend credibility to this $300- million gambling scheme," she said.