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Feds accuse ex-lawmaker of ‘greed, fraud and arrogance’ in misusing campaign funds

Feds accuse ex-lawmaker of ‘greed, fraud and arrogance’ in misusing campaign funds

After week of delays, former GOP State Sen. Sam McCann’s trial finally underway

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass pulled no punches in describing former Republican state Sen. Sam McCann on the first day of his federal corruption trial on Tuesday.

“This case is about greed, fraud and arrogance,” Bass said. “Greed for a lifestyle far beyond his means...fraud in obtaining that lifestyle...and arrogance in continuing that lifestyle (even after being) confronted by law enforcement.”

McCann stands accused of illegally using campaign funds for personal expenses, including paying two mortgages, financing multiple vehicles and vacations, fraudulently cutting himself checks for work not performed, and double-dipping on reimbursement for miles driven.

The trial finally got underway Tuesday morning after a week of delays stemming from McCann’s sudden hospitalization the previous weekend. U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless ordered him arrested and detained last Friday for violating her direct orders to communicate with the federal probation office after being discharged from the hospital.

Read more: Former lawmaker taken into custody amid delays to his corruption trial after sudden hospitalization

McCann appeared in court in the black and gray striped uniform from the Macon County Jail, where he’s been held since Friday, along with orange sandals. At the defense table, McCann sat in a wheelchair – a repeat of Monday, when he claimed to be suffering from confusion and memory loss from not receiving his medication for several days – a claim prosecutors disputed.

Lawless delayed the trial one more day until Tuesday after McCann said he no longer wanted to represent himself – a reversal of a move that won him a 10-week delay in November when he suddenly fired his court-appointed attorneys. On Tuesday he was represented by his court-appointed attorney Jason Vincent, who had previously served as his standby counsel.

Read more: McCann trial delayed another day as he cancels plan to represent himself

McCann waived his right to a trial by jury in the fall, so Bass on Monday presented his first seven witnesses to Lawless. They included McCann’s former running mate in his 2018 campaign for governor and a former staffer who said she had an “on and off” romantic relationship with McCann from 2011 to 2017.

Cynthia Miller, who started working for McCann during his 2010 run for a seat in the Illinois Senate, said that over the nearly eight years she spent staffing his campaigns and district office, her relationship with McCann became “toxic.”

She attributed that toxicity to her increasing knowledge that the senator was misspending campaign funds and McCann’s anger in response to her multiple confrontations about it. In the early years that Miller was in charge of filing McCann’s quarterly campaign finance reports to the State Board of Elections, she said she kept meticulous receipts.

But after the campaign got debit cards, it became harder to keep track of McCann’s spending, which complicated the pair’s personal relationship. 

“‘You don’t need to worry about it, I’ll worry about it,’” Miller quoted McCann as saying when she brought up his questionable spending.

Miller told Bass that around 2012 or 2013, McCann punished her for questioning some of his campaign expenses. She said the senator “became very angry” and went to her apartment in Jacksonville to take the computer and printer that she used to maintain the campaign’s finances.

But that temporary reprieve from filing quarterly reports didn’t last forever. Miller said McCann asked her to help with campaign finance again, and she’d resumed her occasional warnings that it “wasn’t right” to claim mileage reimbursements from the campaign fund when she knew he was using the campaign debit card to pay for fuel.

Eventually, Miller settled on only inputting expenses into the quarterly reports she knew were legitimate and left it to McCann to input expenses she wasn’t sure about. Miller said she didn’t feel comfortable putting her name down on official Board of Elections paperwork as the “preparer” of quarterly reports that included questionable expenses.

 


Sam McCann

Former GOP state Sen. Sam McCann is pictured in his booking photo on Friday, Feb. 9. (Photo from Macon County Sheriff’s Office)


 

But in 2016, Miller opened a piece of mail from a bank that wasn’t the institution where McCann’s campaign fund was based. She noticed it was labeled “campaign fund” and guessed the password to the account based on McCann’s reuse of passwords for his banking, email and Facebook accounts, all of which she had access to as his staffer.

The account, opened in September of that year, included charges to a water park and a jewelry company called Plunder. It also showed a nearly $20,000 charge, which McCann falsely labeled as a purchase for a mobile district office. Miller affirmed McCann never operated a mobile district office, though he’d talked about wanting one in the past.

When Miller asked McCann about it, she said he responded by saying, “The less I knew, the better off I’d be.”

A few months later, McCann fired Miller, but brought her back on in mid-2017, where she remained until ultimately leaving for good in early 2018.

Later that year, McCann left the Republican party and founded the Conservative Party of Illinois in order to run for governor on a third-party platform. His gubernatorial run was primarily funded by $3 million from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, a powerful organized labor organization with an interest in defeating then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who’d been elected on the message that unions were to blame for Illinois’ fiscal woes.

On the witness stand Tuesday, Local 150’s executive director, Marc Poulos, told Vincent the union supported McCann because he was a “lunch pail Republican” and that Local 150 leadership “was pleased” with McCann’s performance during the 2018 campaign.

But when Bass asked Poulos if the union would still have been “pleased” with McCann “had you known” how he’d been spending the union’s campaign contributions – which included the purchase of trucks and recreational vehicles in 2018 – Poulos said no.

“We would not have been, nor are we pleased,” he said.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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Hannah  Meisel

Hannah MeiselHannah Meisel

Hannah has been covering Illinois government and politics since 2014, and since then has worked for a variety of outlets from NPR affiliate stations to a startup newsletter. She’s a graduate of both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the U of I’s Springfield campus, where she received an M.A. through the Public Affairs Reporting program and got her start reporting in the Capitol.

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