Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Government Breaks Silence on Cueto U.S. Indictment Responds to Year of Attacks, Ridicule by Lawyer

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Government Breaks Silence on Cueto U.S. Indictment Responds to Year of Attacks, Ridicule by Lawyer

Article excerpt

For a year, federal prosecutors were silent as Amiel Cueto, the prominent lawyer and political activist in St. Clair County, savaged them with derogatory nicknames, cartoons and stories in his own tabloid newspaper.

Now they have responded with a 36-page indictment that charges Cueto and two others with trying to block the federal investigation that brought down Thomas Venezia's multimillion-dollar gambling and topless-club empire last year.

The indictment, rumored to be in the works since Venezia was convicted last December, was announced Friday by U.S. Attorney W. Charles Grace in East St. Louis.

The charges name Cueto, 47, of Belleville; Venezia, 53, of Belleville, already serving a 15-year sentence for gambling, conspiracy and other charges; and Robert Romanik, 47, of Belleville, the former police chief in Washington Park who is now a private investigator and owner of a topless nightclub.

Cueto and Venezia are charged with obstructing justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to defraud the government.

Venezia also is charged with perjury. Romanik is charged with obstructing justice and conspiracy to defraud the government.

The most serious counts each carry maximum sentences of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. All three men are set for arraignment in East St. Louis on Wednesday.

On Friday, Cueto called the allegations false and said, "I expect to be fully vindicated."

During Venezia's trial, Cueto repeatedly denied allegations from witnesses that he was involved in the gambling activities and efforts to derail the federal investigation.

Grace refused to discuss the indictment Friday but said the investigation of Cueto and Venezia would continue. Grace still refused to comment on Cueto's newspaper, the East Side Review.

Cueto used the newspaper to attack the investigation of Venezia, alleging that prosecutors and FBI agents actually were covering up corruption by a state liquor agent, Bonds Robinson.

Testimony in Venezia's trial and allegations in the new indictment contend that Robinson actually was working secretly with the FBI and IRS in 1992 when he recorded a conversation with Venezia that prosecutors said included discussions of bribes to keep Robinson from investigating Venezia's activities.

The new indictment charges that Cueto tried to manipulate judges and State's Attorney Bob Haida of St. Clair County to get Robinson indicted. Cueto got a judge to force Robinson to testify at a surprise hearing so Cueto could learn of the FBI investigation, the indictment says.

When Haida refused to charge Robinson, the new indictment alleges, Cueto announced he would run against Haida for state's attorney and would prosecute Robinson if he won. Cueto later decided not to run.

Haida could not be reached for comment.

Despite months of rumors that Cueto was under intense investigation, the indictment sent shock waves through the courthouses and political establishments in St. …

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