A former Michigan prosecutor was charged Monday with soliciting a hitman to murder the attorney who represented a business partner in a contentious fraud and malpractice lawsuit over the ownership of a golf course.
Clarence Gomery, 59, a onetime county prosecutor, was accused of offering $20,000 to a local handyman to kill Christopher Cooke, a Traverse City attorney. A judge set bail at $5 million cash bond.
Sheriff Tom Bensley told a news conference Gomery solicited Dale Fisher, an acquaintance, to murder Cooke, but that Fisher informed authorities of the murder-for-hire scheme earlier Monday and cooperated with them in providing evidence.
Fisher was described by authorities as a handyman about the city’s lakefront, and that Gomery had used Fisher’s dock and hoist removal business in the past.
Authorities said in court papers that Fisher met with Gomery at his law office last Thursday, when the $20,000 payment was discussed. The pair met again on Sunday -- when, they said, Gormey gave Fisher $1,000 to buy a gun to kill Cooke.
Fisher told The Record-Eagle newspaper he informed authorities and Cooke of the murder plot on Monday because “I was trying to be a morally sound person and do the right thing, to do what any law-abiding citizen would do.”
Authorities gave few details about the possible motive, except to reference a 2013 civil suit that involved Gomery and Cooke dueling in court over a deal gone wrong with Gomery’s former business partner, Fred Topous Jr.
Cooke represented Topous in the fraud and malpractice suit won before a jury by Topous, a convicted sex offender and $57 million lottery winner. Gomery was ordered to pay $315,000 to Cooke in attorney and court fees. The suit involved Gomery’s legal handling of a golf course property purchased by Topous.
“We would guess that may be the basis” for the murder-for-hire plan, said sheriff Bensley.
Cooke, the intended target, said he knew why Gomery wanted him dead but didn’t elaborate. He did say he and Gomery had been “adversarial attorneys in a few cases.”
Gomery is a well-known lawyer in northwest Michigan, having served as an assistant prosecutor in Grand Traverse County and one, four-year term as an elected prosecutor in Leelanau County. He was defeated for re-election in 2000.
Cooke has practiced law in Traverse City since 2001.
Details of this story were provided by the Traverse City, Mich., Record-Eagle.