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In day 2 of trial, prosecutors detail former lawmaker’s alleged RV rental scheme

In day 2 of trial, prosecutors detail former lawmaker’s alleged RV rental scheme

Government expects to rest its case against ex-state Sen. Sam McCann on Thursday

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

This story has been expanded from a brief published earlier in the day.

As federal agents wrapped up their first interview with former Republican State Sen. Sam McCann in the summer of 2018, one observed that there were “a lot of vehicles in your driveway.”

“I gotta have wheels,” McCann told the agents a few moments earlier. “The only shot I got at winning is making personal connections.”

McCann’s words were played back to him in a federal courtroom on Wednesday, the second day of a trial in which he stands accused of misusing campaign funds for personal benefit for years while in office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass played more than an hour of FBI-recorded tape from that first meeting with agents on July 30, 2018.

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

The former senator appeared in U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless’ courtroom again wearing a black and gray striped uniform from Macon County Jail. He’s been held there since Friday, when the judge ordered him detained after he disobeyed direct orders upon his discharge from a sudden hospitalization in St. Louis, which delayed the trial from last week.

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

Nearly six years earlier, McCann was in the middle of a third-party campaign for governor at the time the agents approached him. He said he regularly drove 100,000 miles annually in his job as state senator, as his rural district spanned seven counties westward from Springfield to the Missouri border, and the senator said he drove everywhere to connect with constituents and voters.

But the constant driving, McCann told the agents, left him little time to get his campaign finances in order every three months when he was required to file quarterly reports to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

“I’m out on the road all the time,” McCann said after agents relayed that his publicly stated campaign finances were wildly out of whack with his true bank statements, which they’d gained access to in the course of their yearlong investigation. He also lamented that he didn’t have a big campaign team like some others in Illinois politics.

One of the agents told McCann that he was guessing the two balances were “five digits, if not six digits out of balance.”

McCann did not respond when asked how the agents were supposed to reconcile those two numbers, letting the silence grow after he let out a sigh.

There were “a lot of expenses that look like normal consumer expenses,” one of the agents told him.

But when directly asked if any of the expenditures in his campaign account were on “anything that doesn’t have to do with the campaign?” McCann flatly denied it.

“Not that I can think of,” he said.

In fact, prosecutors allege, McCann spent years using his campaign count as a piggy bank for personal use.

Some of the most notable purchases allegedly financed by campaign funds include a truck, an SUV, a trailer and a motor home. 

When agents pointed out, for example, that McCann had “two campaign offices on the same street” in Carlinville – which happened to be McCann’s former residence and an investment property next door – the senator said he was renting the buildings to his campaign, even though he had a much more clearly marked campaign office elsewhere in town.

The agents said it raised a red flag that he was reporting on his quarterly campaign finance paperwork that he was paying “rent” directly to Carlinville National Bank, the same institution that held two of McCann’s mortgages. An executive from CNB testified on Tuesday that the bank had never rented any property to McCann’s campaign, but McCann paid his two mortgages from one check every month, which always bore the name “Sam McCann for Senate” in the top-left corner.

When the agents suggested McCann was using his campaign funds to pay the mortgage on the investment property, the senator said he believed it only paid “a portion of the mortgage.” But agents also pointed out that it was odd that McCann’s campaign was paying CNB directly, and that he wasn’t reporting the rent payments as income; his eventual indictment included charges that he was evading taxes.

Also on Wednesday, prosecutors delved into McCann’s alleged scheme to rent out a motor home and trailer – which they also allege he purchased illegally with campaign funds – to himself on an Airbnb-style website called RV Share. 

McCann registered as an owner of the camper vehicles under the name Sam McCann and then made a second account with his given name, William McCann, to rent them. McCann rented out his vehicles five times, including three times to his RV Share alter ego.

Though the physical addresses and email addresses the two accounts used were different, the accounts both used the same phone number, which RV Share executive Tom Klenotic acknowledged should’ve been a red flag to the website.

McCann’s counsel, Jason Vincent, suggested RV Share had a vested interest in overlooking the duplicate phone numbers, as the company made nearly $11,000 in commission from McCann renting out his vehicles on the website.

But Klenotic said RV Share flagged the two accounts for possible fraud anyway and stopped allowing the accounts to perform any transactions.

In response to prosecutors’ subpoena on his company, Klenotic had produced a conversation McCann had with himself on the RV Share platform, in which one McCann wrote to the other to thank him.

“We can’t wait to get on the open road,” the message said.

The government is expected to rest its case on Thursday.

 

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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