- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A disgraced former Illinois drug court judge at the center of a courthouse drug scandal is getting time to square away things before serving a two-year sentence on heroin and gun convictions. But exactly where Michael Cook will spend his time behind bars at his own expense remains unclear.

A filing by U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade shows the former St. Clair County judge must surrender by May 28 to whatever lockup the Federal Bureau of Prisons slots for him, with recommendations that Cook be considered for placement in prisons in Estill, S.C., Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Ala.

“The court recommends that the defendant be housed at a federal prison camp as close to his family as possible that will maximize his exposure to substance abuse and mental health treatment,” McDade wrote in the sentencing order and opinion filed April 1.

But such determinations may be out of Cook’s hands.

Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Monday that various factors contribute to where a convict serves his prison sentence, including everything from prison crowding to what level of security he or she requires and the availability of on-site mental health and substance abuse treatment - counseling for which McDade said Cook should be evaluated.

The bureau also tries to assign the offender to a prison within 500 miles of his hometown, Burke said.

Such decisions “can be very quick, but it also depends on the complexity of the case,” said Burke, noting that the prison location ultimately chosen is not made public until the offender surrenders there.

Messages left Monday with Cook’s attorneys were not immediately returned.

Cook, 43, pleaded guilty in November to a misdemeanor heroin-possession charge and a felony count of having firearms while being a user of controlled substances. During Cook’s sentencing hearing March 28, McDade also ordered Cook - an admitted heroin and cocaine addict - to pay the expected $65,600 cost of his incarceration and his three years of post-prison supervised release. McDade also fined Cook $10,000.

Cook resigned last year after being charged, a little more than two months after the March 2013 cocaine-overdose death of fellow judge Joe Christ while the two were at the Cook family’s hunting cabin some 70 miles north of St. Louis. Cook has not been charged in the death of Christ, a former longtime prosecutor and father of six.

Cook became an associate circuit judge in 2007 and a circuit judge in 2010. His legal troubles surfaced after the death of Christ, who had been newly sworn in as a judge when he died.

Questions about Cook’s drug use have led to overturned convictions in two murder trials in which Cook was the judge between Christ’s death and the time Cook was taken into custody. One of those retrials got underway Monday.