A Centreville man who used to be the band director at Robinson Secondary School was convicted in court Tuesday, Feb. 28, of computer solicitation of a child under age 15. He is Michael Keith Cook, 43 of Climbing Rose Way.
He entered an Alford plea, not admitting guilt, but acknowledging the existence of enough evidence to convict him of the crime.
“Are you entering this plea freely and voluntarily?” asked Circuit Court Judge David Schell. “Yes,” replied Cook.
In an Aug. 25, 2010 affidavit, county police Det. Nickolas Boffi wrote that, while he was working undercover online, posing as a 14-year-old boy, Cook contacted the “teen” and offered to perform oral sex on him. Boffi is actually with the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Child Exploitation Unit, and on Aug. 31, Cook was arrested and charged.
The Fairfax County school system immediately placed him on unpaid leave. Cook had been an FCPS employee since August 1999 and the band director at Robinson since 2006. Prior to that time, he taught music at Stone, Carson and Robinson middle schools.
In court Tuesday morning, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark Sullivan said the online conversations between Boffi and Cook happened between July 19 and 27, 2011. Said Sullivan: “[The officer’s screen identity] told him he was 14 and could only stay out until 9 p.m. because his mother wanted him home then.”
Using a particular screen name, said the prosecutor, Cook “brought up the topic of oral sex and asked the boy for a picture of his penis. [Cook] sent him a photo of his face.” Sullivan said Cook suggested that he and [the officer’s screen identity] meet “somewhere outside” and he’d perform an oral sex act on the teen.
Via Cook’s Internet-service provider, Cox Communications, said Sullivan, authorities were able to identify the screen name as belonging to Cook. “On Aug. 25, the detective met with the defendant at Robinson Secondary School and [Cook] admitted he was [the screen name],” said Sullivan. “Mr. Cook said he didn’t recall talking to [the officer’s screen identity], but said he had talked with an underage child.”
Defense attorney Tom Walsh said that, on July 19, 2011, “Boffi posted an ad on craigslist — which is for people 18 and above — and that’s what drew my client.” Walsh said Boffi “initiated contact” with Cook on July 21 and sent him a photo of a 23-year-old male police officer who looked like an older teenager.
“My client indicated he was 32, not 42, just as Boffi lied about his age,” said Walsh. “Boffi tried to set up meetings with my client, and my client refused. He never met with the detective and, on July 27, the chats stopped.”
Walsh noted that, in his justification to obtain a search warrant for Cook’s home, Boffi wrote that sexual predators often keep child pornography in their computer and in their home. “But there was absolutely no child pornography or anything of that nature found,” said Walsh. “And pursuant to a telephone call from Det. Boffi, my client turned himself in on Aug. 31.”
Judge Schell then asked Cook, “Are you pleading guilty by Alford because the commonwealth’s evidence is such that you don’t wish to take the risk that, after a trial, you’ll be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?” Cook answered, “Yes, sir.”
Schell then ruled that there’s “substantial evidence” against Cook and he accepted his Alford plea. “Do you understand that, because of your plea, you’re not entitled to a trial by jury, and you give up your right to defend yourself?” he asked Cook. Again, the defendant answered affirmatively.
The judge also made sure Cook knew that the maximum sentence he could receive is 10 years in prison, a $2,500 fine and court costs. Schell also told him that, by pleading guilty, he may waive his right to appeal any sentence of the court.
The judge noted, as well, that there’s no agreement between the attorneys regarding the sentence Cook will receive, except that the mandatory minimum of five years in prison that goes with his charge will not be applied to his case. Afterward, outside the courtroom, Walsh said the prosecution only agreed to this stipulation, provided Cook pleaded guilty.
Schell then officially found Cook guilty as charged, ordered a pre-sentencing report be made and set his sentencing for May 4. Sullivan requested Cook’s bond be revoked and he be remanded to jail to await sentencing. “He was a teacher, so there’s a concern for the safety of the kids,” said Sullivan.
But stressing that “no attempts were made by Mr. Cook to meet with [the teen],” Walsh said his client should be allowed to remain free on bond. “There was no child pornography on his computer or in magazines or photos in his home,” said the attorney. “He’s been on supervised release since Sept. 2 and things are going well.”
Walsh said Cook worked for UPS in Chantilly over the holidays, as a seasonal driver, but it’s been difficult for him to find work since — as a condition of his bond — he’s not allowed to use a computer. But, added Walsh, “He’s now gotten a job at a restaurant in Tysons [Corner] and is monitored once a week by supervised-release [personnel].”
He said Cook’s lived at the same residence in Centreville since 1999 and a professional has assessed him as being a “minimal risk” to the community. “The [state] sentencing guidelines are probation, no incarceration,” said Walsh. “Revoking bond would be punishing him now. Allow him to prepare for his sentencing.”
In the end, the judge agreed, so Cook will stay out on bond until his sentencing date. While at Robinson, he directed the high-school bands, including the Symphonic Band, Advanced Band Concert 4 and the Percussion Ensemble. He also taught the Robinson Marching Rams.