In Madison and St. Clair counties, confidence in the local governmental and judicial systems was tested like never before when in the last year and a half a county treasurer was brought to justice on corruption charges and an elected state court judge was jailed on heroin charges.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton prosecuted both of these high profile cases against Democratic public officials which ended when those indicted received relatively light sentences for their crimes.
A review of contributions that Wigginton, his firm and partner have made through the years shows a strong preference for Democratic candidates and causes.
Past to Present
Eight years ago, as Democrats sensed a victory that would restore their control of the U.S. Congress, Belleville lawyer Bruce N. Cook led an effort that raised $58,000 for Senator Dick Durbin in one day.
Cook himself gave Durbin $2,200, and so did sons Bruce R. Cook and Michael Cook.
Their wives together gave Durbin $5,200. Lawyers in Cook’s firm added $4,000.
Durbin collected $1,000 each from other attorneys such as Stephen Wigginton, who Durbin would later recommend for U.S. Attorney - a job that one day would involve investigating a death on property of the Cook family.
On June 28, 2010, while Wigginton awaited Senate confirmation, the firm he shared with Michael Weilmuenster gave $500 to a joint fund of candidates for circuit judge, Robert Haida and Michael Cook.
Two days later, Weilmuenster and Wigginton gave Haida and Cook $4,000.
Wigginton also investigated former Madison County treasurer Fred Bathon, a Democrat, who rigged tax sale bids to enrich contributors.
With judge Michael Cook, he found no merit in a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit finding probable cause to believe he distributed illegal drugs.
Nor did he follow through on a state police laboratory report identifying Cook as suspect in the death of St. Clair County associate judge Joe Christ.
On the charges he brought, he bargained a sentence so short that a judge rejected it, twice.
With Bathon, Wigginton chose not to seek restitution for victims of a $4 million crime.
The decision benefited not only Bathon but also John Vassen and Scott McLean, who pleaded guilty of conspiring with Bathon.
Just as Wigginton did for Cook, he bargained such short sentences for Vassen and McLean that a judge rejected them.
A Department of Justice manual requires recusal “where a conflict of interest exists or there is an appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality.”
Wigginton’s history of contributions shows the pronounced support for Democratic candidates:
He wrote his first check in 1994, for $200, to state representative candidate Jay Hoffman.
In 1999, when Bruce N. Cook raised $14,750 for Durbin, Wigginton contributed $250. Cook, his sons, and their three wives each gave Durbin $1,000. Three lawyers in Cook’s firm added $500 each.
Wigginton gave Madison County state’s attorney Bill Haine $250 in 2000, and he gave Hoffman $500 in 2001.
Wigginton and Weilmuenster started a firm together in 2001.
The firm gave its first campaign check to St. Clair County state’s attorney John Baricevic, for $250, and the second to judge James Donovan, for $300.
In 2002, the firm gave $5,000 to Rod Blagojevich’s campaign for governor and $1,000 to Lisa Madigan’s campaign for attorney general.
In St. Clair County, the firm gave $250 to the party’s central committee, $250 to circuit judge candidate Annette Eckert, and $200 to circuit judge Michael O’Malley.
In Madison County, the firm gave $200 to Thomas Chapman, who is currently an associate judge.
Weilmuenster gave $2,500 to the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
Wigginton gave incumbent Congressman Jerry Costello $1,000.
Weilmuenster gave the trial lawyers $2,500 again in 2003, and Wigginton gave Costello $1,000 again.
The firm gave $300 to Donovan, $260 to Baricevic, $200 to coroner Rick Stone.
In 2004, the firm gave appellate court justice Gordon Maag $2,200 for his Illinois Supreme Court campaign against Lloyd Karmeier.
The firm gave $1,500 to the Illinois Democratic Party.
In St. Clair County, the firm gave $1,900 to circuit judge Robert LeChien, $300 to circuit clerk Barney Metz, $250 each to board chairman candidate Mark Kern and auditor Patty Sprague, and $200 to Stone.
In Madison County, the firm gave $200 each to county board chair Alan Dunstan, circuit judge Andy Matoesian, and county board member Sue Brown.
Weilmuenster doubled his contribution to the trial lawyers, giving $5,000.
Wigginton again gave Costello $1,000.
In 2005, Weilmuenster gave the trial lawyers $2,500, and Wigginton gave Costello $1,000.
The firm gave $1,000 to Troy mayor Tom Caraker, and $500 each to Hoffman, state senator John Cullerton, and East St. Louis school board president Lonzo Greenwood.
The firm gave $300 to appellate court justice candidate Bruce Stewart and $200 to Madison County judicial candidate Dave Hylla.
The firm gave $750 to the St. Clair County central committee, $300 to the state party.
In 2006, the firm gave candidates $3,900 through August.
The firm gave $750 each to Blagojevich and Hoffman.
In St. Clair County, the firm gave $450 to circuit judge Jan Fiss, $250 each to Kern and the central committee, and $200 to county clerk Bob Delaney.
In Madison County, the firm gave Hylla $1,250.
On Sept. 6, 2006, Wigginton joined in a fund raising event for Durbin that reflected the success of lawyers in St. Clair and Madison county courts since the Durbin event in 1999.
Bruce N. Cook, his sons, and the wives of all three gave Durbin a total of $11,800.
Cook’s law partners Joseph Bartholomew, Bernard Ysursa and Gregory Shevlin, each gave Durbin $1,000, as did Claudia Bartholomew.
Others followed Cook’s example.
Tom Keefe of Belleville gave Durbin $3,200, the most for any individual.
Kern gave him $2,000.
Edwardsville injury lawyer Mark Goldenberg and partner David Antognoli each gave him $2,000, as did Edwardsville asbestos lawyer Randy Gori.
Keith Short of the Becker firm in Belleville gave him $2,000, and colleagues Alvin Paulson, Kevin Hoerner, Garrett Hoerner, and Elizabeth Egan each gave him $1,000.
Lawyers at Korein Tillery in St. Louis together gave him $7,000.
Belleville law partners Jerald Bonifield and John Rosenstengel each gave him $1,000.
Swansea lawyer John Kurowski gave him $1,000, and so did Constance Kurowski.
Wigginton, eight other lawyers, and five persons in other occupations each gave him $1,000.
Durbin raised $58,000 in all, almost four times as much as in 1999.
On the same date, Wigginton gave Costello $1,000.
Wigginton gave Durbin $1,000 in 2007, and wife Kathleen Wigginton gave him $250.
They jointly gave $250 to Madison County circuit judge Bill Mudge, and the firm gave $250 to Madison County circuit judge candidate Richard Tognarelli.
The firm gave $900 to appellate court candidate James Wexstten, $200 to regional school superintendent Brad Harriman.
In St. Clair County, the firm gave $250 to the central committee and $200 to circuit clerk candidate Brendan Kelly.
Weilmuenster gave the trial lawyers $2,500, and Wigginton gave Costello $1,000.
On Sept. 30, 2007, Weilmuenster jumped on the bandwagon of presidential candidate Barack Obama with a check for $1,000.
Wigginton in June 2008 gave Obama $500.
Weilmuenster gave the trial lawyers $2,500 in that election year. Wiggington skipped his annual $1,000 contribution to Costello. Kathleen sent it instead.
In St. Clair County, the firm gave $1,200 to circuit judge Michael O’Malley, $500 each to Kern and Kelly, and $450 to the central committee.
In Madison County, the firm gave Mudge $250, and Wigginton gave Dunstan $200.
The firm gave $1,000 to Hoffman, and $500 to state senator James Clayborne.
The firm gave $1,200 for retention of Fifth District appellate judge Richard Goldenhersh, and $250 for retention of circuit judge Dennis Doyle.
On Oct. 22, Wigginton gave Obama $250.
Next day, he gave $250 to senate candidate James Martin.
The firm set a lump sum record on Jan. 30, 2009, giving Wexstten $10,000. On the same date the firm gave Kern $500.
That spring, Weilmuenster gave the trial lawyers $2,500, and Wigginton gave Costello $1,000.
The firm gave $250 to the political action committee of the building and construction trades council, and $200 each to Dunstan and state representative John Fritchey.
The Wiggintons gave $250 to Madison County circuit clerk Matt Melucci in May, and they gave Mudge $250 in June.
Also in June, the firm gave $1,000 to governor Pat Quinn.
In July, Durbin submitted Wigginton’s name to Obama as a possible U.S. attorney. Durbin also submitted the name of Courtney Cox, who held the position at the time.
Later that year, the firm gave $500 to state representative Eddie Jackson, $250 to the central committee, and $200 to Kelly.
That November, Wigginton gave $1,000 to candidate for state treasurer Alex Giannoulias.
In February 2010, the firm gave Kern $1,000.
On April 5, Weilmuenster doubled his annual check for the trial lawyers to $5,000.
On April 14, Kathleen Wigginton gave Costello $1,000.
On April 15, Obama nominated Wigginton.
On May 21, the firm gave $250 to the building trades council.
On May 22, Weilmuenster gave Costello $300.
On June 14, Kathleen Wigginton gave Giannoulias $1,000, and the firm gave St. Clair County assessor Jennifer Gomric Minton $200.
On June 28, the firm gave $300 to Committee for a Free Judiciary.
Also on that date, the firm gave $500 to the joint campaign of Haida and Cook.
On June 30, the firm gave Haida and Cook $4,000.
That August, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Wigginton.
In 2011, Costello’s annual check for $1,000 came from Kathleen Wigginton. She gave congressional candidate Harriman $2,500.
On Feb. 5, 2013, Wigginton filed information that Bathon violated antitrust laws.
Bathon waived indictment, an option some defendants exercise when they negotiate pleas before prosecutors file charges.
On Feb. 25, Wigginton moved for an order “determining that it is impracticable to perform a complete accounting of the losses to each individual victim.”
Chief District Judge David Herndon denied the motion without prejudice on March 1, and asked for more information.
On March 10, in Pike County, Michael Cook found Joe Christ dead.
At an autopsy, a “one hitter” device for snorting cocaine fell from Christ’s clothes to the floor. Pike County sheriff and coroner Paul Petty picked it up.
Petty questioned Cook in Belleville on the day of Christ’s funeral, and filed a report that Cook admitted using drugs.
Deputy sheriff Matt Frazier summarized the case as possible negligent homicide.
He wrote that Cook told Petty others like him in the courthouse used drugs.
Petty and Frazier reported that Cook said a person in the courthouse gave Christ the one hitter as a gift on his promotion from prosecutor to judge.
Pike County state’s attorney Carrie Boyd did not touch the case.
When Boyd declined to act, Wigginton took charge.
He had already opened an investigation into a drug business that Deborah Perkins ran from her home at 20 Kassing Drive in Fairview Heights.
Two guests of her son, Douglas Oliver, had died of overdoses in 2012.
Wigginton had indicted Perkins as leader of the enterprise and Oliver as a distributor.
He had also indicted distributor Eric Beckley of Centreville.
Agents had questioned distributor Sean McGilvery of Belleville, but had not arrested him.
On May 23, they arrested Michael Cook at McGilvery’s home.
They arrested McGilvery elsewhere, and charged him as Cook’s heroin dealer.
They arrested St. Clair County probation officer James Fogarty, and charged him as Christ’s cocaine dealer.
Wigginton filed information that Cook possessed heroin and used it while possessing firearms.
Cook waived indictment, as Bathon had done.
Three days later a state police scientist reported finding more genetic material from Cook on the one hitter than from Christ, indicating it belonged to Cook.
The report identified Christ as victim, Cook as suspect.
Meanwhile in Bathon’s case, Wigginton informed Herndon that the government analyzed 11,762 transactions in annual auctions from 2004 to 2007.
He provided a table showing that tax buyers who would have collected $778,035 in the absence of collusion instead collected $4,846,902.14.
He again declared it impracticable to calculate the loss for each parcel.
In Cook’s case, in June, Senior Judge William Stiehl suspended the proceedings so Cook could obtain treatment.
Stiehl then recused himself, and the other judges followed suit.
Herndon assigned the case to Senior Judge Joe McDade from the Central District of Illinois.
In Bathon’s case, in October, Wigginton filed information that tax buyers John Vassen and Scott McLean conspired with Bathon.
They too waived indictment, agreeing to spend 10 to 16 months in prison.
Wigginton asked Herndon for an order that, “no additional resources need be expended in determining the exact amount of restitution owed to each of the potential victims in the case.”
Wigginton gave Durbin $1,000 in December, his first campaign contribution in three years.
In January, Herndon questioned whether a range of 10 to 16 months was appropriate for Vassen and McLean.
After an exchange of briefs under seal, Herndon sentenced Vassen for two years and McLean for 18 months.
In Cook’s case, Wigginton negotiated an 18 month sentence but McDade found it too lenient in light of the harm to public confidence in the judiciary.
At a second sentencing hearing this March, Wigginton again asked for 18 months.
He praised Cook as generously as Cook’s lawyer did.
McDade stretched the sentence to two years.
Wigginton said after the hearing that the investigation would continue.
He has not charged anyone since.