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Fla. gambling arrests may close veterans shelter

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 15, 2013 at 10:38 am •  Published: March 15, 2013
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"I just think it's a shame they used the veterans as bait to lure money in to be donated," said Joe Gault of the Florida VFW.

In 2011, Allied Veterans established the homeless shelter as a separate corporation and gave it an initial donation of $630,000 — enough to make a down payment on the shuttered nursing home and to pay for repairs and renovations.

In December 2011, dignitaries, including two Florida members of Congress, attended a dedication ceremony. Its brick walls were freshly whitewashed and accented with red and blue trim. Flagpoles erected on the front lawn flew flags for each of the military service branches. Gold-painted statues of soldiers flanked the walkway to the front door.

Inside, there were rooms to house 40 men and eight women, a kitchen staffed by a full-time cook, a computer lab and a weight room. In early 2012, the first homeless veteran moved in.

"It has always been my dream to have a place where we could house the faction of needy veterans who were willing to give all they had to protect our freedoms, and offer them the chance to excel in life, but at the same time become a viable part of society again," Jerry Bass, the president of Allied Veterans of the World, said on the center's website.

Bass also served on the shelter's board of directors and occasionally would stop by to visit. On Tuesday, police arrested Bass at the veterans shelter on charges related to the gambling investigation.

Bass has not returned telephone calls. Mathis' attorney has said he did nothing wrong and was not the ringleader.

Len Loving, the retired Marine Corps colonel who runs the Allied veterans shelter, said he was been shocked by allegations that Allied Veterans lavished millions on its top executives, who allegedly spent the money on boats, beachfront condos and sports cars such as Maseratis and Ferraris.

"I really thought the majority of the money coming into the organization was going to veterans," Loving said. "I'm very upset and very angry after learning this information, if in fact it's true."

His wife, Suzie Loving, handles the shelter's finances. She said they have enough money to keep the doors open through June. They plan to go without most of their pay, and are asking other staff to accept similar cuts. They've also told their residents there's a chance the center will be forced to close.

"If we don't get funding to be able to move forward, I have to say that we'll probably have to walk over and lock the door," Len Loving said.

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Kelli Kennedy reported from Miami.