Ex-alderman Pleads Not Guilty In Restaurant Fire

He is accused of having accomplice start blaze

By: William Lamb, of the Post-Dispatch, Post-Dispatch special correspondent Nicholas Pistor contributing. (reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 16, 2005)

A former Waterloo alderman has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis to charges that he arranged to have his Cahokia pizza restaurant burned in August 2003 to collect on a new insurance policy. Michael S. Augustine, 40, was arrested on Monday at his home in Waterloo, according to Adam Fein, an associate in the law firm of Augustine’s attorney, Scott Rosenblum. Augustine remained in federal custody Wednesday. He is due to appear in court on Friday, when his attorneys will seek to have him released on bond.

According to a nine-count indictment that was made public this week, Augustine arranged to have an accomplice, William Bequette, set fire to the Pop N Pizza restaurant, at 529 1/2 Falling Springs Road in Cahokia, early in the morning of Aug. 14, 2003. Augustine had owned the business for three months and, in late July 2003, had purchased a new insurance policy on the restaurant. Bequette was indicted by a federal grand jury on arson charges in February last year. According to the indictment, Augustine paid Bequette $470 to set fire to the restaurant. After closing the restaurant on the night of Aug. 13, 2003, Augustine allegedly filled two Mason jars and a Bacardi Silver bottle with gasoline and left the containers, a ladder and a pair of gloves for Bequette outside the restaurant. Bequette allegedly retrieved the items shortly after 1 a.m. Aug. 14 and used them to set fire to the building. Augustine is charged with damaging or destroying a building by fire and conspiracy to damage or destroy a building by fire. He also is charged with two counts each of wire fraud, mail fraud and witness intimidation and one count of use of fire to commit a felony. Augustine was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Waterloo City Council in 2003 and was defeated when he ran for re-election in April. In 1999, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Cahokia, where he lived before moving to Waterloo.