Former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Mike Cook stood before another judge on Friday and admitted he used heroin and possessed guns while using the drug.
"I knowingly and unlawfully possessed heroin," Cook told U.S. District Judge Joe McDade, who accepted Cook's guilty plea.
In most ways it was a routine guilty plea in federal court.
But at one point, McDade asked Cook if he knew what a jury trial was. Cook, 43, was elected as a St. Clair County circuit judge in November 2011. He presided over 24 jury trials.
"Yes, your Honor," Cook responded.
Cook entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. In exchange for Cook's guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend an 18-month prison sentence for the former judge.
Cook was told repeatedly that McDade did not have to accept the terms of the agreement and that McDade could impose a longer or shorter prison term. McDade reserved his acceptance of the plea agreement until he reviewed a report by the U.S. probation office into Cook's history.
Even if McDade decided not to accept the terms of the plea agreement at Cook's sentencing hearing on Jan. 17, Cook is barred from withdrawing his guilty plea.
In addition to pleading guilty to the weapons and drug charges, Cook agreed to surrender guns and ammunition. The list of 45 firearms that must be forfeit included 16 rifles, 17 shotguns and 12 handguns. One rifle is a .50-caliber AR50A1 sniper rifle with an accurate range of 1,000 yards and a cost of about $3,500. Also included were hundreds of rounds of ammunition, holsters and telescopic rifle and shotgun sights.
Cook didn't have a gun on him or with him when he was arrested, his lawyers have said.
Federal sentencing guidelines are used by federal judges to determine appropriate sentencing in criminal cases. The guidelines were once mandatory but are used by judges in an advisory capacity. Those guidelines found Cook was eligible for probation, or a sentence of up to six months and a fine of $1,000 to $5,000.
Cook's father, Bruce Cook, a prominent plaintiff's attorney and Democratic Party supporter, attended the hearing with other Cook family members. Cook stood at a podium before McDade's bench and answered his questions with "Your Honor."
Cook, his family and attorney left the hearing with his attorney Thomas Q. Keefe declining to comment.
During the hearing, more details were made public about the night Cook was arrested outside a house on North 38th Street in Belleville where his friend, former client and drug dealer Sean McGilvery stayed.
Federal agents were at the house with a search warrant when Cook was there to pick up heroin.
"Officers executing the search warrant saw (Cook) drop something to the ground when they approached," the court document stated.
The agents later discovered Cook dropped a user amount of heroin or less than a gram.
McGilvery told federal agents that Cook purchased heroin from him on a nearly daily basis. McGilvery, 34, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin. He is expected to be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
McGilvery's co-conspirators, Deborah Perkins, and her son, Douglas Oliver, also pleaded guilty. Perkins and Oliver are scheduled to be sentenced in December. McGilvery is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
On Wednesday, former St. Clair County probation officer James Fogarty, 46, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Fogarty told FBI agent Joe Murphy that he sold Cook and Joe Christ, a new associate judge and longtime prosecutor, an eighth of an ounce of cocaine days before Christ died around March 10 from cocaine toxicity at Cook's Pike County hunting cabin. The judges paid $280 for the coke.
U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan told Fogarty that he would not accept a plea bargain that would send Fogarty to prison for five years if it could be shown that the eight ball of cocaine sold to the judges led to Christ's death.
U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton told reporters after Cook's hearing on Friday that the federal investigation has already yielded nine defendants, Fogarty, Perkins, Oliver, Cook, McGilvery, Augustus Stacker, Joe L. Mitchell, who are charged with selling cocaine to Fogarty. Eric Beckley and Harold Gardner are accused of selling heroin for Perkins and Oliver. Gardner is Perkins' son, Wigginton said.
"The investigation is ongoing, but it is becoming narrower and narrower," Wigginton said.
After his arrest on May 22, Cook spent a night in jail, then was released so he could get drug treatment at a private Minnesota facility.
On Friday, McDade allowed Cook to remain on bond until his sentencing on Jan. 17.