Steve Korris Oct. 17, 2013, 12:38pm

Sean McGilvery of Belleville, heroin supplier to former judge Michael Cook, turned to the drug as a cheap alternative to prescription pain killers, his lawyer said after he pleaded guilty on Oct. 17.

Rodney Holmes of St. Louis told reporters outside of federal court, “People sell these pills on the street but it’s cheaper to get heroin.”

“OxyContin is just synthetic morphine," he said. “This is what happens with drug addicts every day. It’s a sad path.”

Minutes earlier, District Judge Michael Reagan had accepted McGilvery’s plea that he conspired to distribute heroin.

In court papers, McGilvery stipulated that Cook was his regular customer who would "pick up amounts of heroin on an almost daily basis" from his residence in Belleville. 

Reagan told McGilvery his sentence could range from 10 years to life, and he set sentencing for Jan. 23.

Reagan said prosecutors recommend a sentence at the low end of the range.

Conspiracy members Deborah Perkins and Douglas Oliver of Fairview Heights previously pleaded guilty, and they await sentencing in December.

Drug agents arrested McGilvery and Cook on May 22, at McGilvery’s home.

In June, grand jurors indicted McGilvery on a conspiracy charge and Cook on a possession charge.

McGilvery pleaded not guilty, and Magistrate Judge Donald Wilkerson sent him to jail without bond.

Cook pleaded not guilty, and District Judge William Stiehl permitted him to leave the state for treatment.

On Oct. 10, Reagan posted notice that McGilvery would change his plea on Oct. 17.

McGilvery entered Reagan’s court wearing handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit with “White County Jail” on the back.

Reagan asked if his signature appeared on a plea agreement. McGilvery said yes.

"I was not a party to this agreement so I am not bound by it," Reagan said. "Do you understand?” McGilvery responded yes.

Reagan asked if he believed Holmes had been ineffective. McGilvery said no.

Reagan left the bench and huddled in a corner with McGilvery, Holmes, prosecutor James Porter, two marshals, a court reporter and a courtroom deputy.

In a scene like prayer, Reagan spoke softly while the other seven bowed their heads.

Reagan returned to the bench and accepted the plea.

As marshals guided McGilvery out a side door, he nodded at three women.

As the door closed, one of them dabbed her eyes.

Outside, Holmes told reporters McGilvery originally pleaded not guilty because he had not seen the government’s evidence.

Holmes said that after numerous meetings, McGilvery decided it was in his best interest to plead guilty.

He said that if McGilvery had gone to trial, he would have faced a harsher sentence.

Holmes said marshals moved McGilvery from St. Clair County jail to WhiteCounty about two weeks ago for dental work. McGilvery would have faced a root canal procedure two days after his arrest, he said.

He said temporary putty had begun to dissolve in McGilvery’s mouth.

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