Saturday, December 31, 2005

It's Safe to Now Report on Venezia -- He's Dead 

Just Don't Use the "M" Word

In what is perhaps the longest lead time extended to a story in American journalism history, the Riverfront Times finally published an expose on one of the newspaper's former advertisers, the late Eastside rackets boss Thomas Venezia. The two-part series ran in the Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 editions of the St. Louis weekly newspaper.

Venezia and his girlfriend Jeniffer Anderson were found dead last July at his Mascoutah, Ill. home. Authorities ruled Venezia shot Anderson and then turned the gun on himself.

Under the ownership of media conglomerate New Times Inc., writing opuses based on years-old murder cases is part of the RFT's stock formula. So for the story to have appeared in a matter of months is a credit to reporter Malcom Gay.

But the Venezia story has been on the backburner for a very long time -- more than a decade.

In the early 1990s, the RFT, then owned by St. Louisan Ray Hartmann, hired award-winning investigative reporter David Magoya away from the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat. Magoya immediately set about digging into Venezia's criminal enterprises, but claimed to be stymied by the stonewalling of his sources. Months passed and Magoya produced little to nothing. Eventually, after about a year, he left the paper abruptly, and quickly moved to Detroit, where he became a reporter for the Detroit News, specializing in organized crime reporting.

During and after Magoya's tenure, the RFT continued to advertise Venezia-controlled strip joints on a regular basis.

Years past, and the RFT, grew in size and stature. In 1997, the newspaper offices moved from the Shell Building downtown to the Tivoli Building in Unversity City. During the move, another reporter -- a notoriously messy housekeeper who had taken over Magoya's office space -- found a stack of messages that Magoya had left behind in a filing cabinet.

The messages were mainly appointments written on scraps of paper that appear to have been snatched from publisher Hartmann's trash. They included at least one lunch date at a trendy Central West End cafe with the newspaper's top salseman in charge of selling strip joint ads.

The Venezia story fell off the radar screen with Magoya's departure. Nothing was written about the notorious mob boss before or after his arrest, indictments, trials, convictions, incarceration or parole. Only after he was found dead in July 2005, was Venezia's name newsworthy in the pages of the RFT.

In the thousands upon thousands of words that Gay spent detailing Venezia's criminal career and death, the words mafia, mob and organized crime manage to never appear. Another detail that evaded reporting is that B&H Vending, the Belleville company at the center of Venezia's illegal gambling enterprise, was previously owned by Ed Wortman, brother of the late Frank "Buster" Wortman, the mob boss who controlled Southern Illinois rackets for the Chicago mafia until his death in 1968.

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RFT's Ties to Eastside Rackets 

culled from Media Mayhem's morgue


Another Riverfront Times advertiser:
The Illinois Secretary of State shows the company that owns PT's Eastside locations to be Cardinal Management L.P., Troy Lowrie, general president.

Lowrie is the heir to his father Hal Lowrie's chain of topless bars that operate in several states. Lowrie has also branched out into other business ventures. Lowrie's headquarters are in Denver. After one of his Denver managers -- Laurence Ballani, was brought up on sexual assault charges, stemming from the alleged rape of a dancer, Lowrie transferred him to the East St. Louis area, where PT's owns four topless bars. The civil case against Ballani eventually went to the Colorado Court of Appeals (#99CA2407). The criminal charge brought against Ballani was through Arapahoe County, Colorado prosecutor's office (98-R694).

Hey, Andy, why doesn't Westword look into this?

Boxers n' Briefs

Another Riverfront Times advertiser:
Boxers n' Briefs is owned by Platinum Inc., according to its 2001 Centreville liquor license. The Illinois Secretary of State lists Sherry Dee Marsala of Brooklyn, Ill. as the registered agent; James Lichty, president and Linda Sonnenschein -- massage parlor kingpin Dennis Sonnenschein's former wife, secretary.

Sonnenschein, a pimp, pleaded guilty in late 2003 to an obstruction of justice charge related to a federal grand jury investigation into the prostitution rackets on the Eastside. The grand jury was looking into how the prostitution rackets use Missouri publications such as the Riverfront Times to draw customers across state lines for illegal purposes.

The property on which the gay strip club in Centreville is located is owned by Entertainment Ill. Inc., according to its 2001 Centreville liquor license. The name on the liquor license is Robert D. Hollenbeck, 4334I Arrow Tree Dr., St. Louis, Mo. 63128.

But Illinois Entertainment's address is listed as 10282 N. 103 Place, Scottsville, Ariz. 85258.

Hey, Lacey, why don't you investigate this? -- it's in your backyard.

The Crystal Palace

Another Riverfront Times advertiser:
All three felons associated with this topless bar have been convicted of racketeering or obstruction of justice charges. They are: Amiel Cueto, Robert Romanik and the late Thomas Venezia, who was found shot to death along with his girlfriend at his Mascoutah, Ill. home earlier this year. Authorities ruled the death as a murder-suicide. Both of the victims families have disputed the finding.

New Times "associate executive editor" Andy Van De Voorde must be ignorant or awfully damn stupid to say that RFT advertisers aren't connected to organized crime. Of course, you could never tell that from the fine reporting of Bruce Rushton, who in the past has written about Brooklyn, Ill. and never mentioned Dennis Sonnenschein or Thomas Venezia or Amiel Cueto or Robert Romanik or Hal Lowrie or other convicted racketeers. I believe that you went to the strip clubs, Bruce. You didn't pull a Jayson Blair.

The VIP Oriental Spa in Centerville

Another Riverfront Times advertiser:
VIP Oriental Spa. It's located in Centreville, Ill. According St Clair County property records, the land under VIP is owned by Andrew Millas. Andrew and his brother used to operate a steak houses in Centreville and East St. Louis. Both of the restaurants were blown up in dynamite bombings in 1965.

On March 30, 1965, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that the Millas Steak House, 4101 State Street, East St. Louis, was damaged by an explosion. Authorities estimated that the blast was caused by 10 sticks of dynamite.

A couple years ago Millas was listed as being broker and member of the Fairview Heights (St. Clair County, Ill.) Chamber of Commerce.

Thankfully for Mr. Millas, things have settled down since the wild and wooly 60s.

I'm Not Insinuating Anymore, Andy

In the St. Louis Journalism Review, News Times executive associate editor Andy Van De Voorde once said that I "insinuated that New Times is supported by advertisers linked to organized crime. ..."

What exactly does an "executive associate editor" do, anyway, besides lie?

From the Land of Lincoln: Dump Bush -- Now! 

Illinois Times, Dec. 22:

by Roland Klose

If you’re old enough, news that President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Agency, apparently without legal authority, to monitor the private communications of American citizens must seem awfully familiar.

This sort of monitoring has been pursued before, when technology was less sophisticated and less intrusive, becoming especially notorious during the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Details were divulged in the mid-1970s, during congressional hearings that revealed exactly how fragile the Bill of Rights is in the face of a determined, politically motivated executive branch.

It is true; we live in dangerous times. Our nation faces real threats from forces we don’t fully understand. It is also true that certain individuals in our nation may pose a threat to our national interest. And it is appropriate for the government to take steps to protect our security and ensure that another 9/11 never occurs.

But we are, first and foremost, a nation oflaws — laws based on our shared tradition of respecting free speech and assembly and of allowing people to hold views that are hostile to those in power, no matter how offensive or alien those views might be. This is our heritage; this is our birthright. ...

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