Teen sex and drug parties in a small town--why did prominent Metro-East lawyer Tom Lakin and his friends think they could get away with it?

At Lakin's plea hearing this week--he's admitting guilt on drug charges and is headed to federal prison for six years--Asst. U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark offered a theory, "They thought local police wouldn't interfere."

Lakin, 68, and company thought right. Wood River police didn't interfere, and Lakin and friends partied like the wind.

We shouldn't forget that detail, as the conclusion of Act One of the true crime drama of Tom Lakin played out last Wednesday in an East St. Louis federal courtroom.

Who knew about these sex and drugs parties and kept quiet? Where were the parents of these teens? Where was local law enforcement? How did it get to a point where the people of Madison County needed police and prosecutors from elsewhere to come to the rescue and protect our most vulnerable?

The Lakin case is a vile example of selfish adults preying on minors; of the perils of hubris and the victims of depravity. The long-term legacy of this debacle should be less salacious and more instructive: Tom Lakin ran wild because some of our local elected and appointed officials let us down.

How many of them knew about this evil or at least suspected it? We heard lots of rumors. Didn't they? Lakin had money and connections. What role did that play in the local inaction? They demurred to do their duties, leaving it to federal agencies to come clean up our mess.

Enter independent lawyers Ed Unsell and Thomas Keefe, who took the first shot filing the civil lawsuit everyone apparently was afraid of in spring 2006. Then came Clark, who worked doggedly on the Lakin case for the federal government, squaring off with one of the best defense lawyers in the business in Scott Rosenblum.

They took on Tom Lakin when others didn't--not because others couldn't. And we shouldn't forget it.

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