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North Shore butcher who made $3.7M from illegal gambling business gets one year in prison

“The size of his operation and the amount of cash he obtained was greater than that for which he was charged,” a federal prosecutor recently wrote of Domenic Poeta.

Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Sun-Times File

The year Domenic Poeta purchased a $1.5 million home in Highland Park, the feds say he told the IRS he made less than $12,000.

That was in 2008. The year before, Poeta allegedly reported $38,975 in income. In 2009, he reported $18,835. But prosecutors say the North Shore butcher’s spending managed to dwarf his reported income because he ran an illegal sports gambling business on the side.

Poeta, 63, admitted earlier this year that he made more than $3.7 million from that bookmaking business between 2012 and 2017, dodging $1.4 million in taxes. So Monday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly sentenced Poeta to a year in federal prison and ordered him to pay the $1.4 million he owes.

“The amount involved here is pretty breathtaking, quite honestly,” Kennelly said during the hearing, which took place by videoconference. “And it’s quite likely an undercount by a pretty significant amount.”

Prosecutors said they calculated the amount of taxes Poeta dodged only based on checks deposited into Poeta’s personal bank accounts by seven known gamblers in payment of losing wagers. They said Poeta actually began collecting illegal — and unreported — income long before 2012.

“The size of his operation and the amount of cash he obtained was greater than that for which he was charged,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick King wrote in a recent memo to the judge.

In sentencing Poeta to prison, Kennelly also rejected a bid by Poeta and his lawyers for probation or home confinement. Defense attorney Thomas Breen called Poeta “an absolutely wonderful, wonderful individual” who, despite his crimes, helped people throughout his community. He also called the store Poeta runs — Poeta’s Food Mart — a “very vital shop in the Highwood area.”

Poeta apologized to the judge and said he could best serve his penalty by “staying here and taking care of people that I need to take care of and continue working and pay down this debt.” Poeta pleaded guilty in August to transmission of wagering information and filing a false tax return.

“I hope that I can continue doing, just doing what I can for the people I need to help,” Poeta said.

However, Poeta had an earlier brush with the federal court system. The feds accused him of working as a bookie back in 2007 as they tried to collect on a judgment against Adam Resnick, a gambling addict who went to prison for a $10 million check-kiting scheme that brought down Universal Federal Savings Bank in 2002.

They also said Resnick wrote about Poeta in his 2007 book “Bust: How I Gambled and Lost a Fortune, Brought Down a Bank — and Lived to Pay For It.” In the book, Resnick gave Poeta the moniker “Luciano ‘Lucky’ Petrelli,” court records allege. Petrelli is described as “a star high school athlete in his mid-forties” who “owned a local deli and took bets while he worked.”

In his memo to the judge, King wrote that Poeta collected wagers from gamblers at his shop, their homes or workplaces, and in public. The prosecutor wrote that one gambler left envelopes of cash with his doorman but eventually began leaving undated checks for between $2,000 and $5,000 after “seven years of constantly losing.” Another embezzled money from his family’s restaurant business to pay his debts, ultimately costing the family its restaurant chain, King wrote.

The prosecutor also said the IRS met with Poeta and served him with a subpoena on May 21, 2018. But Poeta allegedly continued to accept wagers and told one gambler he would no longer accept checks — because of the IRS.