As the executive director of the Illinois State Crime Commission, Jerry Elsner has been concerned about heroin for years.
During his time with the commission, which was created in 1994 as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to public safety and law enforcement, Elsner said he’s watched the drug’s popularity expand from inner-cities to affluent suburbs and seen the heroin trade transform into sophisticated business operations.
And the recent drug-related death of St. Clair County Circuit Judge Joseph Christ, as well the heroin-related federal charges lodged last month against Circuit Judge Michael Cook and probation officer James K. Fogarty, has only escalated his concerns, Elsner said.
“It’s become like a government activity,” he said. “I don’t know how to stop it.”
Cook was charged earlier this month with possession of heroin and being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of firearms. He has entered a not guilty plea to both charges and has since resigned from the judiciary.
Fogarty, who had been in custody since his arrest May 24 on cocaine charges, was released today after posting a $10,000 recognizance bond at a detention hearing at federal court in East St. Louis. He has pleaded not guilty.
Federal prosecutors have accused Fogarty of providing cocaine to Cook and Christ the day before the two judges went to Cook’s Pike County cabin. Christ died there in March and although it was originally reported that he died of natural causes, the coroner has since confirmed he died of a cocaine overdose.
With the overall heroin problem facing Illinois, as well as the situation unfolding in St. Clair County, Elsner’s group on Sunday put out a statement asking Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to appoint a statewide anti-heroin task force and give it broad investigative powers.
In the commission’s statement, Elsner said “this heroin virus has the potential to corrupt every facet of our society and must be stopped.”
Several years ago, Madigan established a task force to look into what was at that time was being dubbed a methamphetamine epidemic. Since then, her office has successfully proposed legislation aimed at curbing the problem through stricter regulations on the sale of meth manufacturing ingredients.
He said he would like to see an anti-heroin task force set up that would have powers similar to those given to the so-called “Untouchables,” a group of law enforcement agents that worked to put an end to Al Capone’s illegal activities during the Prohibition-era.
Members of the “Untouchables,” Elsner said, were known for their courage and integrity in fighting corruption, characteristics he said are needed to address the current heroin problem, especially since two St. Clair County public officials are facing charges.
“If this is happening in St. Clair County, it’s happening all over,” he said. “The government is supposed to protect you and now it’s the predator. If the public loses confidence in the system, we’ve got a major problem.”
Elsner said members of the task force his group proposes would need to need to have “impeccable character,” experience in prosecuting those in political, legal and law enforcement fields, and knowledge of both domestic and foreign organized crime syndicates.
“If we are going to have a war on this, let’s have it,” Elsner said, stressing that the state needs to be armed with a task force that’s prepared to not only bring down the drug dealers, but public officials who may be involved as well.
Elsner said the commission made its request for the task force through the media and doesn’t care if it disbanded as a result.
“We will do anything in our power to save the lives of our children. We are not focused on anything else,” he said. “We are doing our job. We don’t care if we are terminated. We are going to do the right thing.”