Congressional Accountability Project
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 3A
Washington, DC 20009
fax (202) 833-2406
September 25, 1997
Honorable James Hansen, Chairman
Honorable Howard Berman, Ranking Minority Member
House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
HT-2, The Capitol
U. S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representatives Hansen and Berman:
RE: Ethics Complaint and Request for Investigation of Representative
This letter constitutes a formal ethics complaint against U. S. Representative
Jerry Costello (D-IL) and a call for an investigation into whether Representative
Costello violated criminal prohibitions against the acceptance of an illegal
gratuity or a bribe, whether he violated federal financial disclosure requirements,
and whether he tried to obstruct a federal gambling investigation. According
to news reports, Rep. Costello was an unindicted co-conspirator in the
trial of Amiel Cueto, who was convicted on June 11, 1997 of one count of
conspiracy to defraud the United States and three counts of obstructing
We are writing pursuant to House Rule 10, which authorizes the House
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct ("Ethics Committee") to investigate
"any alleged violation, by a member, officer or employee of the House,
of the Code of Official Conduct or of any law, rule, regulation or standard
of conduct applicable to the conduct of such member, officer, or employee
in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities."
A "stipulation of facts" between Thomas Venezia, his attorney, and Assistant
United States Attorneys Miriam F. Miquelon and Norman R. Smith states that:
A: Outside Counsel Should Investigate Whether Rep. Costello Accepted
an Illegal Gratuity or a Bribe
In December 1993 [Amiel] Cueto and Venezia entered into another business
deal involving the purchase of 32 acres of property on the riverfront in
East St. Louis. Initially, the deal was to be split 50-50 but later Cueto
told Venezia that each of them would only get 1/3 with the remaining 1/3
to be given to Congressman Costello.....The deal later fell through and
Cueto kept the property in his name. It was later deeded on February 11,
1994 into EnFuturo and made part of another joint business venture....
During the trial of Amiel Cueto, Assistant United States Attorney Miriam
Miquelon and Thomas Venezia expanded on these details. According to Charles
Bosworth Jr. of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
Before the seventh circuit order came down, Cueto and Venezia formed
EnFuturo to hold the riverfront property. Cueto again explained that 1/3
was for Congressman Costello. In 1994, Cueto, Venezia, and Bechtold formed
DKCO for the purpose of opening the first land based gambling casino in
Illinois. Land based gambling was illegal with the exception of a casino
operated on an Indian reservation. Cueto got Congressman Costello involved
in getting the Indian tribe recognized to help the deal go forward. Cueto,
Venezia and Bechtold formed a company known as IllArt to hold their interest
in the DKCO casino operation. Cueto was given 50% of IllArt. Venezia used
Erin Griffin as his nominee to hold his 25% and Bechtold put his 25% interest
in his son's name. Cueto told Bechtold and Venezia that he got 50% because
he had to take care of Congressman Costello and give him 25%. According
to Cueto, this was not to be put in writing until after the first of the
following year so that the Congressman could avoid some reporting requirements.(2)
Venezia identified a letter to Costello that Venezia said laid out
the ownership of the land by the three men [Venezia, Cueto, Costello].
The letter, projected briefly on a screen in the courtroom, was dated Dec.
30, 1993, and was written on letterhead from Cueto's law firm. It was addressed
to Costello at his congressional office at 327 West Main Street, Belleville.
The heading of the letter said it concerned the property on Front Street
in East St. Louis.
But Miquelon took the letter off the overhead projector before it could
be read by reporters. U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh later denied
a request by the Post-Dispatch for access to the letter after it was placed
in evidence. He cited court policy on media access to evidence.
A similar letter addressed to Venezia also was shown briefly on the
screen. Venezia then identified a legal description of the property, which
was titled "9-L-Costello.leg," and Venezia said it was prepared by a title
and escrow service.
Venezia said Cueto had told him to have the letters prepared by lawyer
Thomas LeChien of Belleville, who handled such matters for Venezia, so
the ownership would be spelled out on the record....
Miquelon told the jurors in opening statements last week that the letter
proved Costello was a "silent partner" in the casino deal. She said Cueto
even told LeChien not to file the letter until after the end of the year
"to avoid some reporting requirements."
At Amiel Cueto's trial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that
Assistant United States Attorney Miriam Miquelon said
Miquelon also said Cueto enlisted Costello's help to try to get a bill
passed in Congress to recognize an Indian tribe so the men could try to
open the first land-based casino in Illinois. She said Costello was the
person referred to in the indictment as Cueto's "undisclosed business partner
who was then a public official."(3)
that Cueto had prepared a document showing that he held a financial
interest in the casino project for Costello and that Cueto had instructed
the lawyer handling the project to wait until after a certain date to file
the document to avoid requirements for filing congressional financial reports.
Miquelon also said jurors would hear testimony that Costello met with
Cueto and other casino developers in 1994 to discuss a bill in Congress
to recognize the Indian tribe involved in the deal and then sent letters
to the developers telling them the bill had passed.
Miquelon said Cueto had turned to Costello for more help later, while
Cueto was trying unsuccessfully to set up the indictment of Bonds Robinson,
a state liquor agent working undercover with the FBI to investigate Venezia.
These are serious allegations, made by an Assistant United States Attorney,
in open court. Assistant United States Attorney Miquelon has shown documents
in court which, she says, demonstrate that Rep. Costello held an ownership
interest in the Front Street property. The Ethics Committee should request
and obtain the relevant documents shown by Miquelon in court, and evaluate
whether Rep. Costello had any ownership, either beneficial or real, over
the property on Front Street in East St. Louis.
Miquelon said Costello had met with State's Attorney Bob Haida to offer
him a judgeship if he would resign as prosecutor so Cueto could be appointed
his successor. As prosecutor, Cueto planned to indict Robinson in state
court before he could help get the federal indictment that ultimately led
to the conviction and 15-year sentence for Venezia in 1995, Miquelon said.(4)
House Rule 10 authorizes the Ethics Committee to "investigate...any
alleged violation, by a Member, officer, or employee of the House, of the
Code of Official Conduct or of any law, rule, regulation, or other standard
of conduct applicable to the conduct of such Member..." Certainly, possible
violations of bribery or illegal gratuities laws are within the purview
of the Ethics Committee.
Federal bribery law, 18 U.S.C. §201, states that it is a crime
for a federal official to "directly or indirectly, corruptly" receive or
solicit "anything of value personally or for any other person or entity,
in return for...being influenced in the performance of any official act."
Criminal law on illegal gratuities, 18 U.S.C. §201, prohibits a federal
official from directly or indirectly soliciting or receiving anything of
value other than "as provided by law...for or because of any official act
performed or to be performed."
The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 requires members of the House of Representatives
to prepare annual financial disclosure statements. According to the House
Ethics Manual, "Financial Disclosure Statements must indicate outside compensation,
holdings, and business transactions, generally for the calendar year preceding
the filing date."(5)
B: Outside Counsel Should Investigate Whether Representative Costello
Violated Financial Disclosure Requirements and House Rules
Assistant United States Attorney Miquelon's statements and descriptions
of documents in open court suggest that Rep. Costello may have violated
provisions regarding disclosure of assets and business transactions. The
Ethics Committee should evaluate the veracity of Rep. Costello's financial
disclosure reports, which contain no mention of the DKCO casino or the
Front Street property.
If Rep. Costello was a "silent partner" in the casino deal with Venezia
and Cueto, then Costello may have violated House Rules prohibitions regarding
voting on matters of personal interest when he voted to extend federal
recognition to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.(6)
House Rule 8 states that every House Member "shall vote on each question
put, unless he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest in the event
of such question."
At the trial of Amiel Cueto, testimony from State's Attorney Bob Haida
suggests that Rep. Costello may have attempted to assist Cueto in derailing
the federal gambling investigation of Cueto and his business partner, Thomas
Venezia. On May 2, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that:
C: Ethics Committee Should Review Costello's Efforts to Win Prosecutor
Post for Cueto
The Ethics Committee should review this testimony and other evidence to
determine whether Rep. Costello was obstructing the investigation of Cueto
and Venezia. It should also determine whether -- even if Costello was not
obstructing justice -- he was violating the House Code of Official Conduct
by bringing dishonor to the House of Representatives. Members of the House
of Representatives should not obstruct prosecutorial investigations of
their friends. The House Code of Official Conduct states that:
U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello tried to get his friend, Amiel Cueto, appointed
state's attorney in St. Clair County while Cueto was trying to block a
federal gambling investigation, State's Attorney Bob Haida testified in
Cueto's federal trial Thursday.
A Member, Officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall
conduct himself at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably
on the House of Representatives.(8)
The allegations against Rep. Costello made by Assistant United States
Attorney Miriam Miquelon's statements in court are serious and warrant
an investigation by the Ethics Committee. We urge you to obtain evidence
presented in court regarding whether Rep. Costello had an ownership interest
in the Front Street property. If he did, then we strongly urge you to and
authorize outside counsel in this case as soon as possible.
Certificate of Service
This is to certify that I have today, by hand delivery, provided an
exact copy of this complaint to the Respondent in this matter, Representative
Jerry F. Costello, at the following address:
Representative Jerry F. Costello
2454 Rayburn House Office Building
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
1. Charles Bosworth Jr., "Costello is Unindicted
Co-Conspirator." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 1997. Attachment
#1 also includes Charles Bosworth Jr., "Cueto Found Guilty on 4 Counts;
Investigation Goes on, Prosecutor Tells Court." St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
June 12, 1997.
2. Stipulation of Facts, according to Thomas Venezia,
Douglas A. Forsyth, Assistant United States Attorney Miriam Miquelon, and
Assistant United States Attorney Norman R. Smith, March 24, 1997. Filed
in United States of America v. Thomas Venezia, in the United States District
Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Criminal No. 96 CR 30070 SNL.
See Attachment #2.
3. Charles Bosworth Jr., "Venezia Talks of Three-Way
Casino Deal." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1997. Attachment
#3 also includes Charles Bosworth Jr., "Lawyer Ties Costello to Casino
Plan; Cueto Revealed Link, Witness Testifies During Casino Plan." St.
Louis Post Dispatch, May 20, 1997.
4. Charles Bosworth Jr., "Cueto Defense Attacks Venezia."
Louis Post-Dispatch, April 10, 1997. See Attachment #4.
5. House Ethics Manual at 160.
6. "Restoration of Federal Services to the Pokagon
Band of Potawatomi Indians." Congressional Record, 140 Cong. Rec.
H6721-32, August 3, 1994. See Attachment #5.
7. Charles Bosworth Jr., "Costello Sought Post for
Cueto, Haida Testifies." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2, 1997. See
8. House Rule 43, Clause 1.