Cook sentenced to 24 months in courthouse drug scandal

News-DemocratMarch 28, 2014 

U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton comments on the sentence given to former St. Clair County Judge Michael Cook. A federal judge sentenced Cook to two years in prison on heroin possession and weapons charges on Friday.

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— When a federal judge sentenced former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook to two years in prison on heroin possession and weapons charges on Friday, one of his defense attorneys gave Cook two thumbs up.

Cook nodded and gave a faint smile to Thomas Q. Keefe Jr., one of Cook's legal team. The sentence was six months more than a plea agreement that called for an 18-month prison sentence that U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade rejected a month ago.

"It gives me no pleasure in doing what I have done," McDade said after pronouncing sentence on Cook.

McDade ordered Cook serve three years on parole after his release and pay $75,583, which includes the $65,583 cost of incarcerating Cook and a $10,000 fine.

"I have embarrassed the bench and the bar. I have hurt my family and those who loved me most," Cook said during the sentencing.

He apologized, then said he would serve his sentence with gratitude.

McDade supported the higher sentence by stating that Cook was a longtime drug abuser who used heroin daily since 2008, never sought treatment, caused the loss of public confidence in the legal system, and a significant disruption of government functions.

"That a judge would be beholden to anyone or anything goes beyond the pale," McDade said.

U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton recommended an 18-month sentence for Cook. Wigginton stated the sentence was three times the term advised by the federal sentencing guidelines. He further stated that there was no evidence that Cook used his position as a judge to further his drug use.

Federal prosecutors reviewed Cook's cases, including two murder convictions that were overturned by Circuit Judge Robert Haida, and found no errors.

"We found no legal basis for the state court to grant new trials in those cases," Wigginton told the judge.

Bill Lucco, Cook's lead defense attorney, recommended a six-month prison sentence, stating Cook was an addict, but a good father and husband who came from a loving family. He further stated that after his arrest, Cook went into in-patient treatment for three months and continues to recover from his heroin addiction.

Lucco noted the Cook was known for his high ratings from the lawyers who appeared in front of him, even when he was struggling with his heroin addiction. He also addressed Cook's role as the presiding judge in drug court.

"It's too bad that Mike was so good at being an addict," Lucco said. "He was able to hide it from everyone."

He read from letters of support from Cook's colleagues sent to McDade.

"At one point, we agreed with the prosecutors (on the 18-month sentence). I was never happy about it. I have never agreed to a sentence above the guidelines. I have never agreed to a sentence at the high end of the guidelines," Lucco said. " ... He must go to jail, but my conscience is clearer for not agreeing to the 18 months."

After McDade rejected the agreement last month, both sides agreed to let McDade impose the sentence.

James Radcliffe, a former St. Clair County associate judge who is assistant director of the Law Assistance Program, an addiction treatment program for judges and lawyers, and a recovering alcoholic, testified for Cook.

Radcliffe told McDade that it was unlikely Cook would have sought treatment on his own. Cook's arrest likely saved his life by pushing him into recovery, Radcliffe said.

Cook led a double life that included using cocaine and heroin while maintaining his role as a judge, son, father and husband. He even fooled the professionals he worked with in drug court, Radcliffe said.

"He was leading a secret life where he's using and being a judge around experts in the addiction field. No one was picking up on the signs," Radcliffe said.

That he was able to maintain the facade only increased the denial, Radcliffe said, and was a "recipe for disaster."

Cook, 43, was arrested May 22 outside Sean McGilvery's home on North 38th Street in Belleville. He later was charged with possession of heroin and being the user of a controlled substance in possession of a weapon. Cook resigned from the bench after his arrest, turned in his law license and entered drug treatment after he was released on bond.

McGilvery, 35, a former client and friend of Cook, is serving a 10-year prison sentence on heroin distribution and conspiracy charges. Former Probation Officer James Fogarty was sentenced to five years on cocaine distribution charges.

After Cook's arrest, Fogarty told an FBI agent he sold an eighth of an ounce of cocaine to Cook and Joe Christ, a new associate judge and longtime prosecutor, days before Christ died from cocaine toxicity at Cook's Pike County hunting cabin last year. The judges paid $280 for the drugs.

After Christ's death on March 10, 2013, Wigginton said, Cook "did not stop using heroin, which alarmed me. I was concerned that he was still on the bench or that he might overdose as Joe Christ did."

The investigation accelerated after Christ's death, Wigginton said, until Cook's arrest 10 weeks later.

"Our goal was to arrest Mike Cook with heroin on him," Wigginton said.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly knew of the investigation, but had to keep quiet, Wigginton said, and continued to put his prosecutors before Cook to argue their cases.

If he would have leaked any information, Wigginton said "he could have been charged with obstruction of justice."

Cook will be allowed to surrender to the prison where he will begin his sentence. McDade recommended Cook to serve his sentence at a federal prison camp near his home and that he participate in the drug treatment program.

"When judges fall from grace, they should expect to land a little harder than the rest," McDade said.

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