Judge to decide whether to accept Lakin plea agreement this morning

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 3, 2008, 2:55am

Tom Lakin (left) and Scott Rosenblum

BENTON, Ill. -- A federal judge will decide during a hearing at 11 a.m. today whether to accept a binding plea agreement that would eliminate all sex charges against high profile Metro-East lawyer Tom Lakin in return for guilty pleas on drug charges.

U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert rejected Lakin's plea proposal last Thursday in federal court in Benton.

The deal proposed last week also would have required Lakin to pay $180,000 in restitution to a Missouri-based advocacy group despite the fact that all crimes he is accused of occurred across the Mississippi in Illinois.

Gilbert expressed concern that the recipient of Lakin's $180,000 would be a St. Louis victim's advocacy center rather than anything connected to the victims or the state of Illinois. He also asked why victims in the case were not receiving any of the restitution.

In addition, Lakin would be required to forfeit a $325,000 cash bond he used instead of losing a home and pay a $20,000 fine and serve six years in a federal prison.

The government had been seeking forfeiture of Lakin's East Alton home arguing that drug activity took place there. However, Lakin sold the home so he had to place a $325,000 cash bond instead.

Lakin earlier had pleaded not guilty to 18 sex and drug charges related to cocaine possession and transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes.

A plea deal wiping out the sex charges could offer Lakin, who faces a possible life sentence, the possibility of a better prison placement.

"There's something wrong with that picture and I'm not buying into that provision," Gilbert said last week of the offer.

Gilbert also expressed concern over whether Lakin would be able to afford to pay such an amount because he had not seen Lakin's Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) which would disclose Lakin's financial situation.

Gilbert also noted that Lakin's plea change would be a binding plea agreement, adding it was the first time in 15 years on the bench he'd been requested to decide on such an arrangement.

Gilbert said the only other time he has even heard of a stipulated plea is when James Gibson agreed to a stipulated plea that called for him to serve 17 years in federal prison.

The judge said Gibson later appealed the sentence arguing the maximum he could have been sentenced for the crimes he pleaded guilty to was 10 years, the court of appeals agreed, vacated the agreement and Gibson stood trial where he was found guilty and was ironically sentenced to a much longer sentence than the stipulated plea called for.

Gilbert also noted that a six-year prison sentence is a "departure" from a normal government recommendation in similar circumstances, speculating that Lakin could be helping the government in other cases or because the evidence in the case is mostly circumstantial.

"This court is not privy to the facts surrounding the negotiated plea agreement, nor can it be, but it does raise a concern with the court whether to accept and bind itself to this agreement," Gilbert said.

Gilbert also said there were typographical errors in the agreement that would need to be fixed. He also questioned the validity of the second superseding indictment because it was signed by Randy Massey, whose appointment as interim U.S. Attorney had expired at the time the indictment was signed.

He said it should have been signed by A. Courtney Cox, who was asked by the Justice Department to recuse himself from all criminal matters until the FBI conducted a criminal background check first.

Gilbert said the law calls for a government lawyer to sign indictments but questioned which lawyer could actually do it.

"Can Patrick Fitzgerald come down from Chicago and sign an indictment for the Southern District of Illinois?" Gilbert asked.

Cox passed his background check in February and since has signed all indictments that his office has secured.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark told Gilbert that he believed the government and Lakin could make the changes needed to get Gilbert's blessing.

Clark said because he did not know "the ins and the outs" of the law that calls for the U.S. Attorney to sign indictments, he most likely would dismiss the indictments and charge Lakin by information.

Lakin's attorney, Scott Rosenblum of St. Louis, told Gilbert that he and Clark have become accustomed to working over the weekend and assured the judge they would be ready for the hearing scheduled today.

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