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State Attorney Candidates Spar Over Internet Cafes At Jacksonville Forum

Ryan Benk
State Attorney Angela Corey and her challengers Melissa Nelson and Wes White give closing statements at the Jacksonville Bar Association's candidate forum Wednesday night.

A forum for 4th Circuit State Attorney candidates in Jacksonville kicked off with a familiar tone Wednesday night.

Hopefuls Wes White and Melissa Nelson criticized incumbent Angela Corey on issues like juvenile justice and court diversion programs. And Corey shot back by excoriating the press and defending her long record.

Nelson was expected to take up a bigger portion of the limelightsince the forum was sponsored by the Jacksonville Bar Association. Nelson has been criticized by her opponents for being too close to defense lawyers who are members of the bar.

She did eventually get her moment in an unexpected way. Each candidate was given a chance to ask their opponents one direct question. Nelson initially said didn't have one but quickly backtracked, opting to take a page from White’s playbook.

“I actually do. I want to know more; I don’t know anything about this. I heard it tonight. I would like to know more about Ms. Corey actually telling Mr. White to stand down from investigating or prosecuting Nelson Cuba,” she said.

Nelson Cuba was the former head of the Fraternal Order of Police, one of the largest police unions, who had connections to internet cafes run by the fraudulent charity Allied Veterans of the World.

That charity also had connections to former Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, who was forced to resign after it was learned it was a front to line the pockets of its administrators.

Wes White has accused Angela Corey of telling him to not pursue an investigation against an internet cafe owned by Cuba when he was a prosecutor.

Corey retorted by saying she’s not hesitant to prosecute officers and that law enforcement endorsements don't factor in her decisions on the job.

“Mr. White can continue to sit here and make his claims all he wants; it doesn't make them true and it never happened,” Corey said.

Corey said her office has never handled internet gambling cases related to Allied Veterans and that the investigation was spearheaded by state law enforcement.

Still, White was steadfast in his accusation.

“The fact of the matter is it did happen. I took State Representative Janet Adkins to one of these places and I talked to Ms. Corey about it afterwards and she told me to stand down. Fact is we do look aside. And if we don’t look aside, then we’ve failed to do our job,” said White, referring to Corey.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.