EAST ST. LOUIS — A 65-year-old woman who prosecutors said operated a heroin buying ring linked to a scandal involving a former St. Clair County judge pleaded guilty Thursday and faces a minimum of 20 years in a federal prison.
Deborah A. Perkins answered "yes" when U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams asked if what prosecutors alleged in court papers was true; that she conspired to sell heroin, possessed at least a pound of the potent illegal drug and maintained a "drug involved premises." She agreed to totally cooperate with federal prosecutors by revealing all she knows about crimes.
Court document state that Perkins, whose son is in custody on similar charges, made numerous trips to Chicago accompanied by Sean McGilvery, 34, who is in federal custody on heroin distribution charges.
Former Circuit Judge Michael Cook, 43, was arrested on a misdemeanor heroin possession charge and a felony weapons count by federal agents outside a home on North 38th Street in Belleville in May that was then McGilvery's home, according to other court documents. McGilvery, who has stated in court that he is a drug addict, remains in custody charged with heroin distribution.
Cook has pleaded not guilty and is free on a no cash bond. He is in an out-of-state drug treatment center and has agreed to an interim suspension of his law license. His trial is set for Oct. 1.
Perkins and Oliver also are charged in state court in St. Clair County with concealing the body of one of the victims, Jessica Williams, whose remains were found in Washington Park.
If the federal conspiracy charge can be linked to the heroin overdose deaths of either Williams, 30, or another young woman at Perkins' former home at 20 Kassing Drive, Fairview Heights, she could receive 27 years in prison. A hearing on that potential penalty will be held before Perkins' sentencing date of Nov. 8. Perkins also could be fined about $200,000.
St. Clair County Circuit Clerk records show that Cook presided at a few hearings in the concealment case against Perkins and her son, but had limited overall involvement in the case.
Dressed in a faded St. Clair County Jail jump suit, a handcuffed and shackled Perkins turned briefly and smiled toward an elderly man in the audience, and then was led away by U.S. marshals. The man, who would not give his name, said he was Perkins' father.
St. Clair County Associate Judge Joe Christ, who had been in office only about 10 days, died of cocaine intoxication in March while visiting Cook at a Pike County hunting cabin owned by Cook's family.
And former county probation officer James Fogarty, who told a federal agent that he sold cocaine to both Cook and Christ shortly before Christ's death, also has been charged in the overall investigation. Fogarty is free on house arrest and electronic monitoring and faces cocaine distribution charges.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton told reporters after the hearing for Perkins that the overall investigation, "Remains ongoing. We are running down a variety of leads."
Wigginton said the public can trust the integrity of the judges, prosecutors and employees at the county courthouse as well as the stewardship of Chief Judge John Baricevic. He declined to provide details of the investigation.
The details of Perkins' involvement in the heroin ring showed that she made numerous trips to Chicago, allegedly with McGilvery. The documents state that McGilvery shared gas money, plus contributed funds to buy as much as $2,500 to $5,000 per trip for heroin that was sometimes stored at his Belleville residence. However, the documents did not state whether that residence was the home on North 38th Street or another location.
The mothers of the deceased women, Chris Keel of Collinsville and Ginny Thomason of south St. Louis County, also attended the hearing. Both women are active in local anti-heroin groups.
Keel is the mother of Jennifer Herling, 20, who died of a heroin overdose at Perkins' former home on Kassing Drive, which has been turned over to the government.
"I think she should be charged with my daughter's death," Keel said of Perkins.
As for Perkins' guilty plea and minimum 20-year sentence, Thomason said, "It's not going to bring my daughter back, or Chris' daughter back. But it does help in some small way."
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at email@example.com or 239-2625.