Former Illinois Drug Court Judge Gets Prison Time Following Fellow Judge’s Fatal Overdose
by Joe Watson
A former judge over an Illinois drug court is serving a federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to drug and weapons charges in connection with the 2013 death of a fellow judge from a cocaine overdose. An Illinois probation worker charged in the same case is serving a five-year prison term after pleading guilty to selling drugs to the two jurists.
Former St. Claire County, Illinois judge Michael Cook, 43, began serving a two-year sentence at a federal minimum-security prison in Pensacola, Florida on May 28, 2014. Cook pleaded guilty in November 2013 to a misdemeanor charge of distributing heroin and one felony count of possessing firearms while under the influence of a controlled substance. His arrest came two months after fellow judge Joe Christ was found dead of a cocaine overdose while on a camping trip with Cook.
Christ, a 49-year-old father of six, was discovered in the bathroom of the 2,500-square-foot Cook family cabin near the Mississippi River in western Illinois, not far from the village of Pleasant Hill. His March 10, 2013 death came only a little more than a week after he was sworn in as a judge.
Investigators said St. Clair County probation worker James Fogarty told them he sold cocaine to Cook and Christ on numerous occasions, including just before the camping trip, and had also snorted the drug with the two judges. Fogarty was sentenced on February 27, 2014, following his guilty plea in federal court to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and unlawful possession of a firearm.
Neither Cook nor Fogarty were charged directly in connection with Christ’s death. At Fogarty’s sentencing hearing, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Porter said there was “no credible evidence” pointing to the cocaine Fogarty sold as the direct cause of Christ’s overdose. Porter said a thorough investigation by the doctor who performed Christ’s autopsy, as well as cocaine intoxication experts, led officials to conclude that the drugs provided by Fogarty were not the cause of death.
“There was a ton of cocaine,” defense lawyer Clyde Kuehn admitted to reporters after the hearing. He said the amount of cocaine Christ had taken was different from what Fogarty sold to him days before his death. “Fogarty was not the go-to guy for Christ or anybody else. They had another source,” Kuehn stated.
Cook originally reached a plea agreement with prosecutors that called for a one-and-a-half year prison sentence, but federal judge Joe Billy McDade refused to accept the deal in February 2014, saying it was not enough time. McDade pointed to the number of cases over which Cook had presided while sitting on the bench of the St. Claire County drug court, as well as the length of time he had used heroin prior to seeking treatment.
Cook also faces three years of probation following his prison sentence plus fines and costs exceeding $75,000. He had entered a residential drug treatment facility after he was arrested and resigned from the bench on May 29, 2013. He also submitted an agreement to be disbarred to the Illinois Supreme Court in April 2014.
Cook first became an associate circuit judge in 2007 after serving as a former assistant public defender. He was appointed a circuit judge in 2010, and won a six-year term later that year. Several of the cases over which Cook presided have been thrown out, overturned or are scheduled for retrial since he was arrested in May 2013 at the Belleville, Illinois home of Sean McGilvery, who later pleaded guilty to heroin charges and whom authorities said was Cook’s heroin dealer.
Sources: www.ksdk.com, Associated Press, www.correctionsone.com, www.kmov.com, www.huffingtonpost.com, www.stltoday.com
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