Informant tells FBI Cook had 'relationship' with drug dealer before becoming a judge

News-DemocratJanuary 4, 2014 

— When Michael Cook was sworn in as a county judge in 2007 he already had a "user's relationship" with a Belleville drug dealer who would become his main heroin supplier, a former drug user turned informant told an FBI agent.

The informant stated in a sworn affidavit to have witnessed Cook on hundreds of occasions abusing heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana and a variety of prescription painkillers. Cook served as the "drug court" judge.

Another informant, a drug dealer about to plead guilty to federal charges, told the FBI agent that he expected a lighter sentence in a state felony DUI case where Cook was the judge in return for providing Cook with OxyContin, sometimes known as "synthetic heroin."

That FBI agent, Julie Neiger, swore in affidavits that based on these statements and other evidence, there was probable cause for a federal judge to issue a search warrant for the then-sitting St. Clair County circuit judge's house, track his whereabouts though a GPS on his truck and cellphone, and look at his personal cellphone records.

These formerly sealed documents were filed in April and May but were unsealed in December. Cook pleaded guilty in November to heroin possession and a federal weapons charge.

The weapons charge involved being a heroin user while in possession of firearms. According to an FBI affidavit, Cook checked the box for "no" when asked on a state Firearms Owner Identification Card application, "are you addicted to narcotics?" The card was issued in 2009.

The details listed in the search warrant affidavits go far beyond what had been publicly known about the courthouse drug scandal, which saw another judge, Joe Christ, die of cocaine toxicity. They contain statements made to the FBI by confidential informants, details about police surveillance of Cook months before his arrest and statements shedding new light on the extent and duration of his drug use.

After his arrest, Cook, 43, was released on a no-cash bond and entered drug rehabilitation. He awaits sentencing Jan. 17. The prosecution and defense agreed on an 18-month sentence but the judge could reduce or increase that.

Efforts to reach Cook for comment were unsuccessful. His lead attorney, J. William Lucco of Edwardsville, did not respond to a request for comment.

The lead prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton, said, "Due to an ongoing investigation, I cannot comment."

The affidavits weave a complicated account of the state and federal investigations that ultimately led to Cook's arrest on May 22 outside the Belleville home of his longtime friend and now-convicted heroin supplier, Sean McGilvery.

The documents include a record of McGilvery's cellphone calls and show there were more than 2,000 phone calls in one year between McGilvery and Cook.

OxyContin conspiracy

The FBI does not comment on cases, but agents may have first heard about Cook's drug involvement in August 2011 during a federal investigation that involved a defendant named Justin D. Cahill. Cahill was charged with conspiracy to distribute stolen OxyContin. Cahill told federal agents that a person he had known for years -- an uncharged alleged drug supplier -- told him he had arranged for Cahill's pending fourth DUI charge in state court to be assigned to Cook.

The Belleville News-Democrat does not name people connected to criminal investigations who are not charged.

"During the pending judicial proceedings, Judge Cook would shuffle Cahill's paperwork to the bottom of the stack," the affidavit stated.

Cahill told agents that he believed that by supplying more OxyContin pills for Cook, he would get less jail time for his felony DUIs.

St. Clair County Court records showed that in February 2011 Cook sentenced Cahill to three months jail time and probation for Cahill's fourth DUI offense, which was charged as a felony.

Cahill told the federal agents that he delivered OxyContin and cocaine with the alleged drug supplier for years and had accompanied him on numerous occasions to the home of James Fogarty, a former St. Clair County probation officer. Fogarty has pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution charges in connection with the courthouse drug scandal and has admitted selling cocaine to Cook.

Cahill also told FBI agents that he went on several occasions in 2010 with the unnamed witness to Fogarty's house and saw several white males. The drug dealer referred to the men as "officials" but later identified two of the men to Cahill as "Judge Cook" and "Christ." Joe Christ was a friend of Cook's and an assistant state's attorney at the time. Christ died of a cocaine overdose in March 2013 in a hunting cabin owned by the Cook's parents shortly after being named an associate judge.

An informant, described only as "Cooperating Individual No. 1" or "CI1," saw Cook using many types of drugs: heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana and the prescription drugs OxyContin, Percocet, Darvoset, Vicodin and Xanax, which he crushed and mixed with heroin and then snorted, according to the documents.

CI1 was an admitted former drug user who was not charged, paid or under investigation, according to FBI agent Neiger.

This informant told agents that in the summer of 2012, a week before a planned Hawaii vacation, Cook had 12 grams of heroin. While on the trip, Cook met a "dirty doctor" who prescribed Percocet to Cook, the informant told agents.

"CI1 told agents that a plumber, who for a time supplied Cook with heroin from McGilvery, gave Cook a key to his home,'' according to Neiger's affidavit. The judge went there four times a week to use drugs, the document states.

According to a 2013 search warrant affidavit, "Judge Cook and McGilvery have had a 'user's relationship' for the past eight years."

Cook became a judge on March 2, 2007.

Numerous calls

From the cellphone records, the FBI learned that twice on March 8 and once on the morning of March 9, 2013, a call was placed from McGilvery's cellphone to Cook's cellphone. Cook was at his family's hunting cabin in Pike County, Ill., with Christ. The two men attended a hunting banquet that Saturday night.

Sometime that night or the next morning, Christ collapsed in the bathroom. Cook called 911 about 6 p.m. Sunday to say he had just discovered his friend unconscious. Christ, 49, was declared dead at the scene and after an autopsy was ruled to have died from acute cocaine toxicity.

The cellphone records also showed that on separate occasions just before and after contact with FBI agents, McGilvery's phone was in contact with cellphones registered to Christ and Cook, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit stated there were "numerous" calls between Christ's phone and McGilvery's phone on Jan. 20. This was the day before a state search warrant was executed at 20 Kassing Drive in Fairview Heights. That warrant was signed by a judge on Jan. 19. The address on the warrant was the home of two more players in the drug scandal, Deborah Perkins, 66, and her son, Douglas Oliver, 47.

Court documents do not detail what was discussed in the phone conversations.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly confirmed the state investigation of Cook began after the execution of the search warrant at 20 Kassing Drive.

McGilvery arrived at 20 Kassing Drive on Jan. 21 while federal agents searched the home. McGilvery declined to talk to agents, saying he wanted to first talk to a lawyer. Phone records once again showed numerous contacts between Christ's phone and McGilvery's phone on Jan. 29.

On March 4, while he was being interviewed this time by federal and state investigators, McGilvery was again asked whether he would cooperate with detectives. He told interrogators that he would like to but had been told by an attorney that he should not. The attorney was not identified.

Within minutes of ending the March 4 interview, according to an affidavit, McGilvery called the cellphone listed to Cook.

Heroin house

Federal and state agents who arrived on Jan. 21 to search the house on 20 Kassing Drive, where Perkins and Oliver were arrested, were responding to repeated reports of heroin activity at the house, law enforcement officials would later say. In the spring and summer of 2012, two women died after overdosing on heroin at the house.

Perkins, an admitted heroin addict and seller, told agents that beginning in 2008, she and McGilvery began going to Chicago once a week to buy heroin. She told agents that she made more than 20 trips there with McGilvery, buying up to 25 grams per trip. She described her relationship with McGilvery as "business partners," but told agents the two parted ways between September 2008 and April 2009.

Perkins told agents that in 2009 she began to travel alone to Chicago to buy heroin, but that on two occasions, McGilvery went with her. The two would pool their money, buying between 25 and 100 grams of heroin. Between Thanksgiving of 2011 and the day of her arrest on Jan. 21, 2013, Perkins said McGilvery would give her between $2,500 and $5,000 every two weeks to buy heroin.

Perkins told FBI agents she didn't know McGilvery's customers, but knew he was selling heroin to a "professional person" who worked at the St. Clair County Building.

Perkins once told McGilvery to talk to "his boy" at the courthouse for a status on Perkins' concealment of a homicidal death charge that was pending, the affidavit stated. McGilvery told Perkins that "his boy" told him that St. Clair County "had so many murders ... that it did not have enough money to try them all and that Perkins did not have to worry."

Douglas Oliver, Perkins' son, was also charged with concealing a death. He too asked McGilvery about his charges, according to an affidavit. Oliver later told federal agents that he believed McGilvery was "talking to someone" in the prosecutor's office as well as with other courthouse officials.

"McGilvery told Oliver not to worry about his case because it was only a 'probationable' matter and that Oliver would not be looking at serving a lot of time," the affidavit stated.

In her interview with federal agents, Perkins said she and McGilvery went to a house in Belleville in the summer of 2011 to make a delivery of heroin to a "white male in his 40s." Perkins told agents that the house had a swimming pool in the back. Cook has a pool in the backyard of his home, Neiger wrote in the affidavit.

Christ's death

While the federal investigation of Cook was underway, Pike County Sheriff and Coroner Paul Petty was investigating Christ's death at the hunting cabin near Pleasant Hill belonging to Cook's parents. Cook's father Bruce Cook, is a prominent attorney in Belleville.

During Christ's autopsy, a vial of cocaine dropped out of his clothing. Within a few days, Petty met with Cook over lunch at a restaurant in the Calhoun County village of Hardin. Petty didn't talk about the vial, he has said, but intended to just get a reading on Cook.

The two men met again a few days later on March 15, the day of Christ's funeral, at a Belleville restaurant. This time, Cook admitted to Petty that he used cocaine the day before Christ's death, the affidavit stated. Cook told the sheriff that his drug use started after the death of his sister, Susannah Marison, in 2010 from a brain tumor.

Cook said Christ pulled the cocaine out as the two men drove the 100 miles from Belleville to Pike County, according to Neiger's affidavit.

"What sins Joe committed, he paid for with his life, there's nothing else that needs to be said about that, except prayers for his family," Kelly said.

Tracking Cook

Federal agents received a search warrant on April 11 that allowed them to track Cook's movements by a Global Positioning System connected to his cellphone.

FBI agents determined from the cellphone tracking device that McGilvery was home when Cook was at McGilvery's house on nine occasions between April 13 and May 2, the affidavit stated.

Cook was also under surveillance by federal drug agents.

The affidavit stated that Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Joe Beliveau and other state drug agents, at the request of federal agents, were watching Cook, conducting physical surveillance of him on April 16, 19, 23 and 25. During that surveillance, Cook went to McGilvery's house on North 38th Street in Belleville, walked in a side door and stayed for between three and 29 minutes each time.

After visiting McGilvery's house on one occasion, agents tailed Cook, "... to his place of employment -- the St. Clair County Courthouse in Belleville," the affidavit stated.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 618-239-2625. Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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