By Timothy J. Gibbons, Jacksonville.com
The current and past leaders of Allied Veterans have a long history of working in the gray area between legal and illegal gambling, with their activities prompting new laws as far back as 2005.
Over the same period, the men have earned the admiration and trust of a number of local charitable groups, with several saying they’re bewildered and hurt by the events of this past week.
National commander Jerry Bass and former national commander Johnny Duncan were among the 57 people arrested as part of a far-reaching probe into Allied Veterans, a group founded to help veterans causes that has become more well known for its gaming centers.
Those centers are illegal casinos, the state now charges, although those affiliated with them have long argued they skirt the definition of gambling.
Bass, 62, and Duncan, 65, made similar arguments in 2005, when Allied Veterans was making its money with games of bingo in St. Augustine. The organization came under fire for offering more jackpots per session than state law allowed by exploiting vague wording in the statute.
Complaints at the time were similar to those the men face now.
“It had such a bad stink to it,” said former St. Johns County Commissioner Ben Rich, who at the time said he was concerned about the amount of money going to the organization rather than to charities.
“Just because that isn’t illegal doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be,” he said then.
But Bass and Duncan also had their supporters. The group, which Duncan took over after founder Harold Grossman died in 2004, has always contributed to other charities, even if — both then and now — critics say it’s just a fraction of their profits.