U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert forewarned federal prosecutors and Tom Lakin's lawyer to iron out a plea agreement because "this case isn't like wine, it's not going to get better with age."
Nearly three months later the sides haven't reached an agreement.
Gilbert made the comment March 3 at a hearing in Benton that was set for him to decide if he would accept the once powerful Madison County lawyer's change of plea in a sex and drug criminal case. Lakin faces 18 sex and drug charges related to cocaine possession and transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes.
On Feb. 28 prosecutors and Lakin's lawyers proposed a binding plea agreement that would have removed all the sex charges against Lakin in return for guilty pleas on various drugs charges.
The deal 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 in Illinois.
In addition, the agreement called for Lakin to forfeit a $325,000 cash bond he put up rather than losing a home, pay a $20,000 fine and serve six years in federal prison.
Lakin earlier had pleaded not guilty to charges. A plea deal wiping out the sex charges could have offered Lakin, who would face a possible life sentence, the possibility of a better prison placement.
Gilbert rejected Lakin's plea proposal expressing concerns 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 the victims in the case were not receiving any of the restitution.
"There's something wrong with that picture and I'm not buying into that provision," Gilbert said of the offer. He also expressed concern 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 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 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.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark and Lakin's lawyer, Scott Rosenblum, told Gilbert before the March 3 hearing that the two sides had been unable to negotiate the plea deal.
At the hearing Gilbert ordered that Lakin's PSR report be expedited because normal processing takes around three months.
Gilbert also granted a joint motion to continue the March 17, trial. He said that the "ends of justice outweigh the defendant's right to a speedy trial."
On March 24, a federal grand jury in East St. Louis returned a third superseding indictment against Lakin. The only difference between the new indictment handed down and the preceding one was the name of the person who signed it, Courtney Cox, the new U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.
The public record of the case reflects that nothing happened in the case from the time of the third superseding indictment until May 1, when Gilbert held a telephone status conference between the government and Lakin's defense team.
During a 15-minute telephone status conference Rosenblum informed the judge that he advised his client not to take the polygraph probation requested as part of his PSR.
Clark said he cannot comment about ongoing talks with Rosenblum.