Former GOP state lawmaker, candidate for governor sentenced to 42 months in prison

Former GOP state lawmaker, candidate for governor sentenced to 42 months in prison

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – Former Republican State Sen. Sam McCann on Tuesday was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for stealing nearly $700,000 in campaign funds and attempting to conceal his theft with false reports to state election authorities.

In February, McCann pleaded guilty to seven counts of wire fraud and one count each of money laundering and tax evasion – but only after prosecutors had spent nearly three days presenting evidence against him at trial.

Read more: In last-minute reversal, former Sen. Sam McCann pleads guilty to corruption charges

U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless hearkened back to that moment as she was handing down her sentence Tuesday afternoon, saying McCann’s refusal to “accept responsibility” until the last possible moment factored into her calculation for prison time. She also told McCann she was bothered that he “continued to steal” all while “holding yourself out (to be) a God-fearing public servant.”

“That may have been part of your stump speech and your public persona,” Lawless said. “But just because you said it over and over does not make it true.”

McCann appeared in Lawless’ courtroom clad in the gray-and-black striped uniform of the Macon County Jail, where he’s been held since shortly before his trial began in February. The judge had ordered him detained when he disobeyed her directives after his sudden unexplained hospitalization on the eve of trial further delayed court proceedings, and she declined to release him on home confinement after his guilty plea to await sentencing.

Read more: Former lawmaker taken into custody amid delays to his corruption trial after sudden hospitalization; Judge denies McCann’s request for home confinement, orders him held in custody

But in addressing Lawless on Tuesday, McCann said he was “thankful” for his time in jail because of the relationships he was developing with other detainees and correctional officers. He also said he was coming to understand how some of the votes he took during his eight years in the General Assembly translated to real-world policy that contributed to his fellow detainees’ involvement with the criminal justice system.

“I’d trust these men more than some of my colleagues in Illinois government,” McCann said of his fellow detainees.

Former Republican state Sen. Sam McCann speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Springfield on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Hannah Meisel)

A ‘brazen…fraud’

McCann was elected to the Illinois Senate in 2010, and then twice more in 2012 and 2016. During his eight years in office, McCann represented a rural district spanning from Springfield westward to the Missouri border, sometimes breaking from his own party to vote in the interest of organized labor – a key constituency for Democrats.

McCann’s disagreements with GOP leadership ultimately led to him leaving the Republican Party and forming his own “Conservative Party.” In 2018, McCann ran on his new third-party ticket for governor, garnering $3 million from the International Union of Operating Engineers – a funding move seen as a strategic way to draw votes away from then GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who was deeply unpopular with organized labor.

Though prosecutors alleged McCann’s illegal campaign spending dated back to 2015, it ramped up in 2018, coinciding with McCann’s run for governor and accompanying infusion of cash.

The government’s evidence included checks and bank statements showing McCann used campaign money to pay two mortgages and delinquent loans in addition to helping finance multiple vehicles and vacations. McCann also fraudulently cut himself checks for work not performed and double-dipped on reimbursement for miles driven.

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

During the summer of 2018, federal agents approached McCann about his campaign spending, but he denied any wrongdoing. In several hours of FBI recordings of the meetings played during trial, McCann stumbled over his explanations about why his campaign was paying to lease RVs and properties McCann personally owned, while the agents warned him that lying to them could land him in hot water.

Even so, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass reminded Judge Lawless on Tuesday, McCann kept spending the campaign money all the way up through mid-2020, including buying another RV and cutting himself regular checks from the basically defunct Conservative Party of Illinois long after losing his bid for governor.

Bass said the continuation of illegal campaign fund spending even after multiple interviews with federal agents was McCann’s “most brazen” act of “fraud.”

Booking photo of Sam McCann from the Macon County Sheriff’s Office.

“This wasn’t a one-off. This wasn’t an anomaly,” Bass said. “He continued to use campaign funds for his personal expenses up to the point where there was nothing left.”

McCann was indicted in early 2021, two years after he left public office after his failed third-party run for governor. He spent the next three years after charges were filed against him maintaining his innocence, refusing multiple plea agreements and eventually electing to represent himself at trial after burning through multiple court-appointed attorneys. Ultimately, however, McCann accepted legal representation after his sudden hospitalization on the eve of his already-delayed trial in February.

On Tuesday, attorney Jason Vincent asked Lawless for 12 months in prison – way below the sentencing guidelines that suggested an imprisonment of between 37 and 46 months. Bass had asked Lawless to give McCann the maximum 46 months.

Vincent argued that McCann had already “been disgraced through his own actions” and pointed to the number of pre-sentencing letters of support he’d received from McCann’s family, friends and even former constituents.

While Lawless said the show of support from McCann’s family was encouraging, the judge said she ultimately viewed his actions in the larger context of other public corruption cases.

“Greed coupled with the abuse of power has become expected of public servants,” she said.

In addition to his prison sentence, McCann was also ordered to pay $683,816.61 in restitution, which will be split between Local 150 and the Illinois Education Association, which gave to McCann for his campaigns prior to 2018.

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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