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Internet cafes making Florida comeback including 1 near Ormond

Bottle club owner opens new business in same plaza

Tony Holt @tholt74

Four years after they were shut down by the government and a scandal led to the arrest of dozens of people and the resignation of a lieutenant governor, Internet cafes are cropping up again across Florida including one in Volusia County. The Hot Spot has been open since February at 1230 Hand Ave. and business is so good there is already talk of expansion. Each day for more than 14 hours, nearly every parking spot in front of the business is filled and most of the 80-plus seats inside are occupied. A security guard is routinely seen outside the door. The owner of the plaza, the Greater Daytona Business Center, is Joe Daprile. He said the Internet cafe is “totally legal” and the person who runs the business, Jim Dougherty, is “a decent guy.” When the opportunity came for him to sign Dougherty to a lease, he agreed without hesitation, he said.

Customers who regularly visited Internet cafes years earlier now get to relive those times and so far there have been a lot of them. The Internet concern is one of two controversial businesses, the other a bottle club, that have re-emerged in the past year after legal action led to their closures.

“You see old friends here and you come to socialize,” said Sue Parent, a regular Hot Spot customer. “We don’t hurt anybody. We’re enjoying ourselves.”

Dougherty did not respond to messages left seeking comment. Internet cafes, also known as sweepstakes rooms, were shut down in April 2013 across the state after Gov. Rick Scott signed a ban that had been approved by the Florida Legislature. The businesses contained machines that resembled casino-style slot machines. In recent months, Internet cafes have been making a comeback and so far local and state law enforcement officials have shown no interest in shutting them down.

“The Office of Statewide Prosecution’s current priorities are fighting synthetic drugs, illegal opioids, human trafficking and gang violence,” said Nick Cox, a statewide prosecutor with the Florida Attorney General’s Office. “I feel that we should focus our resources on these priorities for the best interest in the state of Florida.”

Cox made that statement March 14 after his office declined to retry Kelly Mathis, a Jacksonville-based attorney convicted in 2013 on racketeering and other charges related to the operation of Allied Veterans of the World, a chain of now-defunct Internet cafes that generated $300 million in revenue. Mathis won his case on appeal in October 2016 and the state dropped the case. Mathis may have been the only one tried in the Allied Veterans scandal, but he wasn’t the only casualty. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned in March 2013, the same day she was interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement during the agency’s criminal investigation. Carroll was a paid consultant for Allied Veterans. She was never charged.

During the past year, new Internet cafes have opened in Volusia, Putnam, Marion and Hernando counties. Questions still remain about their legality. Cox stated in March that gaming laws have changed since his office started its case against Mathis. Daprile said Internet cafes are legal as long as they are located in unincorporated areas. His plaza is just outside the Ormond Beach boundary.

“Do you think the county issues licenses for Internet cafes if they’re illegal?” Daprile said. “Why would they take my money?”

Records show the county hasn’t collected any money from the owner of The Hot Spot. All business in Volusia County are required to pay a business tax. Not doing so could lead to a fine of up to $250. The Hot Spot has not paid its business tax, according to the Volusia County Revenue Division website. A letter was sent to the business a week ago and so far there has been no response, county officials said.

Gary Davidson, a spokesman with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, said his agency is looking into The Hot Spot, but didn’t elaborate. The Hot Spot is not the only business revving in that location. Coco’s Night Club opened last November. It is owned by George Lopez, whose three prior bottle club businesses were shut down in 2015 after he drew the ire of local law enforcement. Bottle clubs are business that don’t sell liquor, but allow customers to bring their own alcoholic beverages. Coco’s is at 1240 Hand Ave., a retail space behind The Hot Spot. Since Nov. 21, 2016, the Sheriff’s Office has either conducted extra patrols or responded to calls at that address a total of 102 times, according to data obtained by The News-Journal. The most frequent call has been for noise complaints. Those complaints have been made a total of 12 times, records show.

Lopez, 61, has a criminal history. He was most recently arrested in 2015 on firearm charges. A trial date in that case is scheduled for July 5. Daprile said he was happy to bring Lopez into the fold.

“There has not been one incident at the bottle club and there never will be because I run a good shop there,” said Daprile, who added that everyone is out of the club by 2 a.m. and no ordinances are violated. A few of the noise complaints were called in after 2 a.m., according to records. Additionally, deputies have responded to Coco’s on calls about suspicious incidents, medical calls and thefts. On three occasions twice on April 7 and once on May 6 deputies responded to assault and battery calls, records show.

A News-Journal reporter tried interviewing Lopez outside his business last month, but he was hostile and kept it short. He accused the newspaper of “throwing me under the bus” after it reported on a fatal shooting in October 2015 that occurred on the Oakridge span of the Seabreeze bridge in Daytona Beach. The shooting occurred moments after a fight at one of Lopez’s old, now-defunct bottle clubs. The shooting victim, Deandre Smith, was involved in the fight, deputies said. No one has been charged in the bridge incident. During the interview last month, Lopez wanted a $40 cover charge for entry to Coco’s. Lopez said a “famous woman” was appearing at his club that night, but declined to disclose her name.

“You’re asking too many questions,” said Lopez, who then ended the interview. A number of calls also have been made to dispatch for The Hot Spot. Deputies responded to an assault and battery call on March 27 and a gambling complaint on April 5, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Calls for extra patrols also were called in to dispatch.

Next to The Hot Spot is a “massage parlor,” but no sign hangs above the door. The words “Body” and “Foot” are posted on a window to the right of the doors and the posted hours of operation on the left window. A woman working inside spoke little English, but took a message for the owner, who did not respond.

“It’s a massage parlor, that’s what it’s called on the lease,” Daprile said. “That’s all I know.”

Other tenants in Daprile’s plaza include a dog-grooming business, an Irish pub, a cheesecake retailer, a tattoo parlor and a paint supply store. None generates a crowd like The Hot Spot and Coco’s. The pub, Fletchers Irish Pub, is moving out at the end of the month because Daprile declined to extend its lease. The owner, Bill Fletcher, said he has been a tenant there for 10 years and is being “forced out” because of Daprile’s wishes to expand the Internet cafe next door.

“The whole thing is just disappointing,” he said. “There wasn’t even an opportunity to work out something.”

Fletcher, who in addition to owning the pub is employed as the information technology director at The Daytona Beach News-Journal, is moving his business 3 miles away to the 300 block of West Granada Boulevard at the end of the month. Daprile said he is unaware of any plans to expand The Hot Spot into that space. As of last week, there still wasn’t a sign identifying the Internet cafe other than the words, “Win Cash & Prizes” above the door and the words “The Hot Spot” handwritten on a sheet of notebook paper taped to the door. The business occupies two suites and contains slot-machine-like games along the walls and on the main floor.

A reporter took a few seconds of video inside the business and a customer complained to the security guard who ordered the video stopped. At one point, there were roughly 25 Internet cafes open throughout Volusia and Flagler counties. Some were raided and closed before the 2013 law that Scott signed, but most of them shut down when the law went into effect. Spokesmen for Flagler County and its Sheriff’s Office said they are unaware of any Internet cafes that have recently opened there.

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Court orders remand of security guard over alleged sexual assault on teenager

An Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates Court on Friday ordered the remand of 29-year-old security guard, John Eboh, over alleged sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl. The defendant was arraigned on a four-count charge, bordering on unlawful and indecent assault, unlawful sexual intercourse, among others. The prosecutor, Sgt. Kehinde Omisakin, had told the court that the offences were committed on May 1, at about 6. p.m., at Consolidated Hallmark Insurance PLC, Obanikoro Road, Lagos.

She said that the teenager, who was hawking kerosene, was unlawfully detained and assaulted by Eboh.

He took her inside one of the office rooms and started squeezing and fondling her breasts before having sexual intercourse with her, she said.
The offences contravened Sections 135, 144 and 172 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.

Magistrate A.T. Elias adjourned the case until May 24, for hearing and ruling on the bail application.

Court orders remand of security guard over alleged sexual assault …

An Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates Court on Friday ordered the remand of 29-year-old security guard, John Eboh, over alleged sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl. The defendant was arraigned on a four-count charge, bordering on unlawful and indecent assault, unlawful sexual intercourse, among others. The prosecutor, Sgt. Kehinde Omisakin, had told the court that the offences were committed on May 1, at about 6. p.m., at Consolidated Hallmark Insurance PLC, Obanikoro Road, Lagos.

She said that the teenager, who was hawking kerosene, was unlawfully detained and assaulted by Eboh.

He took her inside one of the office rooms and started squeezing and fondling her breasts before having sexual intercourse with her, she said.
The offences contravened Sections 135, 144 and 172 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.

Magistrate A.T. Elias adjourned the case until May 24, for hearing and ruling on the bail application.

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