Former MP Sam McCann sentenced to 42 months in prison

HANNAH MEISEL Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD — Former Republican Sen. Sam McCann has been sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for stealing nearly $700,000 in campaign funds and trying to cover up his theft with false reports to state election officials.

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 spent nearly three days presenting evidence against him at trial.

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Federal Judge Colleen Lawless referred to that moment as she handed down her sentence Tuesday afternoon, saying McCann's refusal to “accept responsibility” until the last moment factored into her calculation of the prison sentence. She also told McCann she was bothered that he “continues to steal” while “presenting himself as a God-fearing public servant.”

“That may have been part of your campaign rhetoric and your public persona,” Lawless said. “But just because you said it over and over again doesn’t make it true.”

McCann appeared in court in Lawless wearing the gray and black striped uniform of the Macon County Jail, where he has been held since shortly before his trial began in February. The judge had ordered him held when he disobeyed her instructions after his sudden, unexplained hospitalization on the eve of trial further delayed the court proceedings, and she had refused to release him to home confinement after he pleaded guilty while awaiting sentencing.

But speaking to Lawless on Tuesday, McCann said he was “grateful” to have spent time in prison because of the relationships he developed with other inmates and corrections officers. He also said he was beginning to understand how some of the votes he cast during his eight years in the General Assembly translated into real-world policies that helped keep his fellow inmates involved in the criminal justice system.


“I would trust these men more than some of my colleagues in the Illinois government,” McCann said of his fellow inmates.

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 stretching from Springfield west to the Missouri border, sometimes straying from his own party to vote in the interests of labor unions — a key constituency for Democrats.

McCann's disagreements with Republican Party leaders eventually led him to leave the Republican Party and form his own “Conservative Party.” In 2018, McCann ran under his new third-party banner for governor, raising $3 million from the International Union of Operating Engineers, a fundraising effort seen as a strategic way to siphon votes from then-Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who was deeply unpopular with unions.

Although prosecutors alleged that McCann's illegal campaign spending dated back to 2015, it spiked in 2018, coinciding with McCann's run for governor and the cash infusion that accompanied it.

The government's evidence included checks and bank statements showing that McCann used his campaign money to pay off two mortgages and defaulted loans, in addition to helping finance several vehicles and vacations. McCann also fraudulently wrote himself checks for work not done and received double reimbursement for miles driven.

In 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 the trial, McCann stumbled over his explanations for why his campaign paid to rent RVs and properties he personally owned, while agents warned him that lying to McCann could get him in trouble.

Despite this, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass reminded Judge Lawless on Tuesday, McCann continued to spend campaign money through mid-2020, including buying another RV and writing himself regular checks from the all-but-defunct Illinois Conservative Party long after he lost his bid for governor.

Bass said McCann's continued illegal spending of campaign funds, even after multiple interviews with federal agents, was “the most brazen” act of “fraud.”

“This was not an isolated incident. This was not an anomaly,” Bass said. “He continued to use campaign funds for personal expenses until there was nothing left.”

McCann was indicted in early 2021, two years after leaving public office following his failed run for governor. He spent the next three years after the charges were filed maintaining his innocence, declining multiple plea deals and ultimately choosing to represent himself at trial after exhausting multiple court-appointed attorneys. Eventually, however, McCann accepted legal representation after he was suddenly hospitalized on the eve of his already-delayed trial in February.

On Tuesday, attorney Jason Vincent asked for 12 months in prison for Lawless, a sentence well below sentencing guidelines that suggested a prison term of between 37 and 46 months. Bass had asked Lawless to give McCann the maximum sentence of 46 months.

Vincent argued that McCann had already “been disgraced by his own actions” and pointed to the number of letters of support he had received before the conviction 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 broader context of other public corruption cases.

“Greed coupled with abuse of power has become a habit among civil 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 donated to McCann for his campaigns prior to 2018.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in July 2020 that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan “must resign” if corruption allegations against his Democratic colleague, long considered the state’s most powerful lawmaker, prove true.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government.

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