Lakin Plea Deal Put On Hold

By: Robert Patrick
(reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 4, 2008)

BENTON, Ill. – A plea agreement between federal prosecutors and former prominent Metro East lawyer Tom Lakin has been put on hold — possibly for several months — while both sides continue working out a deal on Lakin’s drug and sex charges.

Federal prosecutors have accused Lakin, a former Democratic powerbroker, of using and providing drugs to others, including young people, and using drugs to entice a teenage boy and young women to have sex while he watched. He is also accused of bringing the boy across state lines for sex.

After a closed-door meeting with lawyers Monday morning, U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert announced in court that both sides needed more time to work out a deal and more time for probation officials to conduct a presentence report.

Gilbert also said that he would order Lakin to undergo sex offender evaluation. Gilbert stressed that such an evaluation was not unusual and he had ordered it recently in a similar case.

Gilbert also said he would ask officials to shorten the normal three-month length of the presentence report and investigation.

"This case is not going to be like wine — it’s not going to get better with time," he said.

Gilbert has subjected the deal to more scrutiny because he is not been able to weigh in on the appropriate punishment for Lakin. He can simply accept or reject the terms prosecutors and Lakin’s lawyers work out.

Last Thursday, Gilbert rejected a proposed plea deal for Lakin. Gilbert said he had not been presented with a "binding" plea agreement in his 15 years on the bench and faulted the preliminary plea agreement for several things, including questions over the validity of Lakin’s most recent indictment.

Lakin is going to be re-indicted shortly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark told Gilbert on Monday. Clark would not say what the charges would be, however.

Gilbert also said that he wanted a presentence report so that he would know what the normal sentence would be for Lakin’s drug charges under federal sentencing guidelines.

In the rejected agreement, Lakin was to plead guilty of possession with the intent to deliver cocaine, distributing cocaine to a person under 21 and maintaining a drug-involved premises in exchange for a six-year prison term and $525,000 in fines, forfeiture and restitution. The sex charges would be dropped.

As part of the deal, Lakin was to admit that he bought and used cocaine in his house in the 200 block of Oakley Place in East Alton from 1998 to August 2002 and gave cocaine to others, some under 21. He also would have admitted knowing the house was a place where people brought and shared cocaine.

Lakin also agreed to cooperate with investigators "concerning all criminal activity about which he knows, whether or not (he) was himself involved."

In recent years, there have been hints and testimony regarding an investigation into corruption in the Metro East legal community.

An FBI agent testified in 2006 that former Lakin Law Firm lawyer Gary Peel was questioned about corruption involving judges and lawyers in Madison or St. Clair counties, including Lakin. Peel said he knew of none. He is now serving a 12-year sentence for blackmailing his ex-wife.

Neither side would comment on details of the new plea deal or the nature of Lakin’s cooperation after the brief hearing in federal court.

But Lakin’s lawyer, Scott Rosenblum, did compare the process of working out a plea deal with giving birth — to triplets.