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Judge rejects plea deal for former St. Clair County judge in drug case

Judge rejects plea deal for former St. Clair County judge in drug case


EAST ST. LOUIS • A federal judge refused Wednesday to accept terms of a plea agreement that would have sent former St. Clair County judge Michael N. Cook to prison for 18 months on drug-related charges.

U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade called the sentence “not sufficient” and said the facts of the case supported a longer sentence. But McDade also said that he would not “throw the book at him” just because Cook was a judge. He did not suggest what an appropriate sentence would be.

McDade gave Cook and prosecutors until March 19 to try to strike a new deal. On March 28, Cook is again scheduled to be in court — either to be sentenced on a new agreement or have a date set for trial.

After a brief hearing here Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors huddled with Cook’s attorneys. They met with McDade in chambers, then huddled again briefly before leaving.

Bill Lucco, one of Cook’s attorneys, said, “I think we’re done for the day.” Neither side offered further comment.

Cook’s plea deal Nov. 8 to a misdemeanor charge of heroin possession and a felony charge of being a drug user in possession of a firearm was made under an unusual provision. It carried an agreed-upon penalty that took the sentencing discretion away from McDade. His only option was to accept or reject the deal.

In January, McDade filed an order warning both sides that he disagreed with a pre-sentence report that said there were no reasons to go above sentencing guidelines, which called for six months or less behind bars.

McDade wrote that Cook’s status as a judge, his longtime drug use and the disruption of governmental functions were reasons to go higher. He also ordered a supplemental report on how Cook’s actions may have affected cases in front of him, and whether it had affected public confidence in the judicial system.

Cook resigned after exposure of a drug scandal that cost the life of Associate Judge Joseph Christ, who died of a cocaine overdose March 10 in the Cook family hunting lodge in Pike County, Ill., about 65 miles northwest of St. Louis. The scandal also ensnared former probation worker James K. Fogarty and others.

Cook, of Belleville, admitted at his guilty plea that he was a heroin addict. After his arrest in May outside of the house of his heroin dealer, Sean McGilvery, he entered an intensive in-patient treatment facility.

But authorities were investigating rumors of Cook’s drug use long before Christ’s death.

Search warrant affidavits released since the guilty pleas accuse Cook of abusing a variety of illegal and prescription drugs.

One confidential informer claimed in 2012 that Cook had used drugs for a decade. The affidavits also show frequent and familiar contact between McGilvery and both Cook and Christ.

Cook and McGilvery alone exchanged 2,000 calls or messages via cellphone, the affidavits claim. They also show that investigators had information from multiple sources — as early as July of 2011 — that Cook and Fogarty were involved with illegal drugs.

That month, a drug defendant named Justin D. Cahill told authorities he supplied the powerful painkiller OxyContin to a man who gave them to Cook. Cahill also said he supplied “cocaine and/or OxyContin” to Fogarty and saw men later identified as both Cook and Christ at Fogarty’s house during a drug delivery.

Cahill said he also was told that Cook was delaying his felony DUI case and that he thought he got less jail time because of his role in the drug pipeline.

Those warrants also say that a drug delivery charge against McGilvery that was dismissed upon successful completion of a treatment program was handled by both Cook and Christ when neither was assigned the case.

Eleven months after Cahill’s statements to authorities, a confidential informer reported seeing Cook use cocaine “hundreds of times,” as well as marijuana, prescription medicines and even crack cocaine.

That informer also said that McGilvery was Cook’s heroin dealer, and told a story about Cook getting prescription pain pills from a “dirty doctor” he encountered while on vacation in Hawaii.

The informer also said that Christ was using cocaine.

Phone records obtained by federal agents showed that Christ was calling McGilvery in January 2013, both before and after MGilvery was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents at the home of his suppliers, Deborah A. Perkins and her son Douglas W. Oliver.

Perkins told investigators that McGilvery was selling heroin to a “professional person” at the St. Clair County courthouse, possibly a lawyer. Perkins said she’d asked McGilvery to check on the status of one of her cases involving a drug overdose death. He reported back that the court system had many murders and limited money to try them and she “did not have to worry.”

The overdose cases against Perkins and Oliver were transferred to Cook. Both eventually pleaded guilty of federal drug-related charges and received prison terms.

Oliver also spoke with authorities, saying McGilvery knew someone in the prosecutor’s office and gave him information about criminal cases, although it was not clear whether the information was accurate or legitimate. Christ had been a prosecutor until shortly before his death.

On Feb 26, 2013, Christ drafted an order dismissing two traffic cases against McGilvery, and Cook signed the order. Neither was handling traffic cases at the time, investigators wrote.

On March 4, the FBI went to McGilvery’s house because he had failed to contact law enforcement as he’d promised. Minutes after they left, McGilvery called Cook.

At the time of Christ’s death, Cook offered no explanation as to what might have caused it.

Five days later, Cook spoke to Paul Petty, who is Pike County’s sheriff and coroner, admitting he had used drugs since the death of his sister. He also told Petty he had used cocaine the day before Christ’s death and that Christ “brought ... out” the cocaine on the drive to the lodge.

Christ’s death did little to dissuade Cook from contacting McGilvery. In April and May, he called or messaged McGilvery, or vice versa, at least 20 times a week.

Investigators planted a GPS device on vehicles driven by Cook and McGilvery, tracked their cellphones and secretly watched as Cook visited McGilvery.

Cook and McGilvery were arrested May 22. Fogarty was charged May 24.

McGilvery is serving a 10-year prison term on charges of conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, more than a kilogram of heroin.

Fogarty is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday and faces a five-year term on charges of intent to distribute cocaine and being a drug user in possession of a firearm. He admitted selling drugs to both Cook and Christ. His sentence could be affected if he can be explicitly linked to Christ’s death.

Cook is the son of Bruce Cook, of Belleville, a well-known personal injury lawyer and major behind-the-scenes player in local and national Democratic Party politics.

Cook was an assistant public defender and former member of his father’s practice. He was selected as an associate judge in 2007, appointed to a vacancy to be a circuit judge in 2010 and elected to a six-year term, as a Democrat, later that year.

Two men convicted in front of Cook of murder have won retrials after raising concerns about the judge’s drug connections, and some other criminal defendants who appeared before him have been allowed to withdraw guilty pleas.

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