Omega judge back in the news
Standing in the endzone at Lantz Arena several years ago, food and beverage in hand, I unexpectedly encountered a college acquaintance who drove from Champaign-Urbana to see the EIU game. We quickly began updating each other about our lives. He introduced me to his friend Mike McCuskey.
To his surprise, I knew McCuskey. I could have recited many of McCuskey’s stories. I’d spent dozens of days as a news reporter observing McCuskey preside in a federal courtroom in Urbana as the Omega Trust and Trading fraud case with 19 defendants moved through the system. The process took a couple of years and multiple trials. My story count exceeded 100.
The Mattoon-based Omega fraud promoted that a $100 investment would result in a $5100 payout in about nine months from an offshore investment program. About 10,000 people were defrauded more than $20 million from 1994 to 2000. No one received the promised return.
The late Steve Bauer of the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and I were the two reporters who covered most every Omega-related hearing, almost all in front of McCuskey, who often flavored his remarks from the bench with stories from his own life experiences, everything from the Rotary Club to his beloved Chicago White Sox. McCuskey, now age 73, is back in the news, having been appointed last week as the new Illinois legislative inspector general. That means he investigates misconduct allegations against lawmakers, a role for which McCuskey is well suited.
His stories covered much territory, including things like playing baseball for Duffy Bass at Illinois State. He often spoke about ISU, and later was appointed to the ISU governing board. After ISU, McCuskey went to law school after a short teaching career. He was a public defender, served as a state court and state appellate court judge before the lifetime federal appointment in 1998.
Bauer speculated with me during Omega that McCuskey might go against the retirement norm and do something outside the federal court system. That turned out to be true. McCuskey took senior status in 2013, a way many federal judges slow down but continue to take cases. In 2014, however, McCuskey retired from the federal bench, opting to return to the state court, a move highly unusual if not unprecedented.
He was appointed and then ran for and won election to the same position in Marshall County that he’d held many years before. In an interview with The Illinoize after his recent appointment, McCuskey said the pandemic changed things and led to his retirement in 2020. He was quoted as saying he pursued the inspector general position because he’s tired of being retired. He’s looking for the next challenge. He likes his work and knows he has something to contribute.
In the post-Omega years, I followed from a distance as McCuskey handled cases like overturning the murder conviction of Randy Steidl of Paris; upholding suspensions of 6 Decatur high school students involved in a high-profile brawl at a football game and ordering Mark Whitacre, the Archer Daniels Midland Co., executive who turned whistleblower, to return more than $1 million to the agribusiness giant because Whitacre didn’t faithfully perform his corporate duties. Will be interesting to see what’s ahead, given the bad behavior that sometimes comes from the Illinois statehouse.