Chicago Area Grocer Shelved to Federal Prison for Bookmaking, Tax Evasion

Posted on: November 30, 2020, 11:46h. 

Last updated on: December 1, 2020, 08:15h.

A 63-year-old meat market owner from suburban Chicago was sentenced to a year in prison by a federal judge Monday for running an illegal bookmaking operation and failing to report nearly $4 million in income from the sports betting enterprise.

Chicago Grocer Sent to Prison
Domenic Poeta, who co-owns a suburban Chicago meat market with his brother, received a one-year federal prison sentence Monday after pleading guilty to running an illegal sportsbook and filing false tax returns. (Image: Google Maps)

Domenic Poeta entered a guilty plea in early September. The Highland Park resident faced up to five years in prison. Prosecutors, though, recommended a sentence on the lower end of the spectrum, according to court documents.

While the scope of the investigation focused just from 2012 to 2017, authorities said Poeta’s bookmaking scheme dated back to at least 2001.

At least seven individuals paid six-figure debts to Poeta, with one bettor owing more than $1.4 million and another owing $1.7 million. One of Poeta’s bettors embezzled money from his family’s restaurant chain to pay off those losses, court documents cite. That led to the loss of that business.

Authorities claimed he failed to report more than $3.7 million in income. However, they said the scope of his sportsbook operation greatly exceeded that. They noted that financial records over several years indicated his expenses “dwarfed” his reported income. In 2008, he purchased a house for $1.5 million, and on the mortgage application, he claimed annual earnings of $288,000. However, he only reported an income of $11,763 in 2008 and $38,975 in 2007 to the IRS.

That behavior continued, prosecutors said. In 2016, he reported a total income of $81,609 despite knowing he made more than that through the sports betting operation.

Lawyer: Prison Time Could Jeopardize Family Market

In Poeta’s sentencing request filed in late October, his attorney argued for either home incarceration or probation. Thomas Breen said his client doesn’t take the crimes lightly, and that he’s “a shining example of a life committed to work, family, community, and helping the less fortunate.”

Breen noted that his client brought on his older brother as an equal partner in the Highwood store he bought at age 20. In addition, Poeta has coached youth wrestling for the past two decades.

If sentenced to a period of incarceration, Mr. Poeta’s absence would have a profound effect not only on his family, but others in the community,” Breen wrote. “Mr. Poeta is the heart and soul of his grocery store. His brother has cancer, and without Mr. Poeta there to operate the business, it will likely fail, and a dozen or so employees would be out of work. Moreover, the Poeta Training Center could be forced to close and the opportunities it provides to the children and teens of the community would be lost.”

According to the Associated Press, US District Judge Matthew Kennelly delayed the start of Poeta’s sentence until May because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plea deal indicated that Poeta agreed to pay nearly $1.5 million in tax restitution to the IRS and Illinois.

In October, Poeta had previously stated he had a personal loan secured to cover the restitution. However, on Saturday, Breen noted that loan offer had been rescinded. Poeta believed he has about $600,000 to pay toward the settlement and was working on another loan to pay the balance.

Feds Focusing on Chicago Bookies

Poeta’s case is one of several illegal sports betting cases that have been tried or are currently before a federal judge in Chicago.

In October, Eugene “Geno” Del Giudice, an 85-year-old man, received a three-month home detention sentence after he entered a guilty plea for his role in collecting gambling debts for his son, who allegedly ran an illegal online app. That case has led to charges against Casey Urlacher, the brother of Chicago Bears great Brian Urlacher. The former Bears linebacker was not involved in the alleged illegal app.

Also in October, federal prosecutors charged Gregory Emmett Paloian with one count of running an illegal sportsbook. In 2002, he received a three-and-a-half-year sentence after a conviction on a similar charge.

Sports betting finally became legal in Illinois earlier this year. In September, the state reported a handle of more than $305 million from the licensed sportsbooks and betting apps statewide.

Illegal bookies still operate, authorities say, because unlike licensed books, they do not follow regulatory requirements. That means their overhead is lower, and they can offer more attractive odds. In addition, bookies often offer credit to their customers, something sportsbooks cannot provide.