Circuit Judge Michael Cook under federal investigation

News-DemocratMay 24, 2013 

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook is the target of a federal investigation.

Chief Circuit Judge John Baricevic confirmed on Thursday that he removed the cases assigned to Cook, but declined to disclose the nature of the federal investigation to avoid compromising the case.

"I have been in contact with the U.S. attorney and we are cooperating with the investigation," Baricevic said.

The investigation has raised new questions about the death of Circuit Judge Joe Christ, who died in March while at a hunting cabin in Pike County, Ill., owned by Cook's family. The Pike County coroner, Paul Petty, confirmed Friday that Christ died of cocaine intoxication, and that traces of cocaine and drug paraphernalia were found near his body.

Christ, 49, a longtime St. Clair County prosecutor, had only been on the bench about a week before his death.

On Thursday morning, St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly filed more than 500 motions to substitute the judge in criminal cases pending before Cook. Baricevic had already removed them.

In those motions filed on Cook's criminal cases, Kelly stated that the state's attorney has "actively assisted in and advanced a federal investigation of Cook," which resulted in federal search warrants on Cook's person, his house in Belleville and the hunting cabin in Pike County.

Until Friday, Christ's death certificate stated the cause of death was still under investigation, according to the Pike County Clerk's Office.

Cook's office was sealed. Efforts to reached him were unsuccessful.

The developments have shaken the courthouse and cast suspicions on the integrity of the legal system. On Thursday afternoon, federal agents arrested a St. Clair County probation officer.

"There is an ongoing federal investigation. We are cooperating fully with the U.S. attorney's office," said Mike Bittner, head of the St. Clair County probation office. "I am not going to discuss employee issues."

Bittner referred further questions to U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton, who could not be reached for comment.

Baricevic confirmed that Cook's office has been secured and he anticipated that it would be searched at some point.

"Sheriff (Rick) Watson has instructed members of the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation," said Scott Battoe, chief of courthouse security.

"The sheriff's department has been asked to secure a specific area of the facility, and that has been done."

Meanwhile, there was a large presence of federal Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI agents Wednesday night in the 300 block of North 38th Street in Belleville, but police would not confirm whether this was connected to the Cook investigation.

"He said he was a DEA agent and he asked me if I saw anything suspicious," said a resident, who also said he has seen two unmarked police cars parked at either end of the street for about two weeks.

A man who lives at 309 N. 38th St. is Sean D. McGilvery, who was charged late Thursday in federal court with conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute heroin.

According to the affadavit signed by Drug Enforcement Task Force member Neal Rohlfing, a confidential source said that McGilvery traveled with that person to Chicago to purchase heroin. In November 2011, McGilvery was receiving up to $5,000 every two weeks in heroin, the affidavit stated.

McGilvery contributed $20,000 toward the purchase of heroin in December 2012. By January, McGilvery was purchasing 20-30 grams of heroin at a time, the affidavit stated.

McGilvery, a former client of Cook's, filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the man in 1999 after the client was involved in an auto accident. The case settled for $6,000.

Twelve years later, Cook sat as a judge in a case of possession of cocaine against McGilvery. Cook ordered on May 29 that the 34-year-old man's drug case be dismissed after the man attended drug treatment.

The motions for a new judge cites two cases of concealment of a homicidal death against Debra Perkins and her son, Douglas Oliver, who lived at 20 Kassing Drive in Fairview Heights.

Perkins, 64, and Oliver, 46, faced state charges in connection with the heroin overdose death of Jessica Williams, whose body was found March 19, 2012, in Washington Park. Cook is the judge in both Perkins' and Oliver's state cases, but they have other cases pending in federal court.

Kelly has filed complaints with the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, and the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, according to the motion filed Thursday.

Cook was appointed as an associate circuit judge in 2007. He graduated from law school in 1999 from the University of Tulsa. He was appointed to fill the vacancy after Circuit Judge Annette Eckert announced her retirement in 2010. He is one of four judges who presides over the criminal felony docket.

Cook is the son of Bruce Cook, a personal injury attorney in Belleville who is a major contributor to the local Democratic Party.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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