Amiel Cueto's appeal rejected by U.S. Supreme Court

Ann Knef Oct. 3, 2006, 9:18am

Amiel Cueto

Amiel Cueto, a disbarred Belleville lawyer who spent six years in prison for shielding the $48 million gambling empire of his client Thomas Venezia, lost a last chance to regain his law license.

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, according to an Associated Press report.

Cueto had sought to have his 1997 conviction overturned. He claimed his indictment had been altered to remove the name of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, a childhood friend.

Cueto was disbarred by the Illinois Supreme Court in November 2004. In December 2005, a U.S. appeals court ruled that Cueto's trial and conviction did not violate his constitutional rights.

Venezia, who was convicted of gambling and racketeering in 1995, took his life in July 2005 in a murder-suicide. He also shot his 21-year-old roommate, Jennifer Anderson, in the back of the head at their Belleville apartment.

During his trial, Cueto was accused of calling on Costello to oust St. Clair County State's Attorney Bob Haida so that Cueto could be appointed to the job. According to the Oct. 2 AP report, prosecutors said Cueto wanted to "press trumped-up bribery charges against a state liquor agent investigating Venezia's gambling empire."

Judge Cueto

First elected in 1994, Amiel Cueto's brother -- St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto -- has served two consecutive six-year terms as circuit judge. Rather than run for retention in November, Lloyd Cueto took the controversial step in running for election.

"I decided to forego a retention vote and run in a general election because I choose to match up against an opponent and let the voters choose on the basis of legal ability, diligence and experience, rather than allow the outside special interest groups and political action committees to dictate the terms of my re-election," Cueto said in December.

Withdrawing from retention and running for his own vacancy has been called unconstitutional by legal ethics scholar Leonard Gross, a law professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

"He can't run for election," Gross said. "It's not valid pursuant to the Illinois Constitution."

The state constitution holds that the office of a judge "shall be vacant upon his death, resignation, retirement, removal, or upon the conclusion of his term without retention in office."

To be retained, a judge must receive a 60 percent "yes" vote. Running for election, a judicial candidate only needs 51 percent, or one more vote than the opponent.

Cueto, a Democrat from Belleville, faces attorney Paul Evans, a Republican from Shiloh, in the Nov. 7 general election.

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