Federal trial for Sam McCann postponed again

Decides to represent himself, pleads not guilty to charges of illegal campaign spending

Former Conservative Party gubernatorial candidate Sam McCann fired his latest court-appointed lawyer and decided moments before opening arguments in his federal trial Nov. 27 to represent himself against charges of illegal campaign fund spending that could land him in prison for 20 years or more.

McCann, 54, told reporters after his decision that he doesn’t fear federal prosecutors armed with 70,000 pages of documents bolstering their case. A potential prison term doesn’t bother him either, he said.

“I’m not nervous at all … because I know God’s got this,” he said. “Whatever happens, God’s got it.”

By the end of the hearing in Springfield’s U.S. District Court, East Peoria lawyer Charles Schierer had been dismissed, and a clearly annoyed Judge Colleen Lawless rescheduled McCann’s bench trial in the almost 3-year-old case for Feb. 5-9.

“This is a request that is absolutely untimely,” Lawless said. “There will not be another continuance of this.”

click to enlarge Federal trial for Sam McCann postponed again
Former Illinois gubernatorial candidate Sam McCann of Plainview speaks with members of the news media Nov. 27 outside U.S. District Court in Springfield after his bench trial on federal charges of illegal campaign spending was delayed until February
McCann, a former Republican state senator from the unincorporated community of Plainview in Macoupin County who lacks a college degree and has never studied the law, told Lawless he was unfamiliar with the federal court system’s rules of evidence and rules of criminal procedure.

Lawless told McCann it would be “unwise” for him to act as his own attorney, even if she is able to grant his request for an experienced lawyer to act as a court-paid “standby counsel.”

But McCann – who has pleaded not guilty to the seven counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of tax evasion handed down by a federal grand jury in February 2021 – said he wanted to proceed and doesn’t want to plead guilty, as some of his previous attorneys have advised.

“This is a very much politically motivated case,” said McCann, who represented parts of Springfield and Sangamon County while representing the 49th Illinois Senate District from 2011 to 2013 and the redrawn 50th District from 2013 to January 2019. He was succeeded in the General Assembly by Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield.

Ostracized by Republican politicians and running under the Conservative Party banner, McCann lost his bid for governor in 2018, receiving about 192,500 votes, or 4.2% of the total. That was the year Democrat JB Pritzker received 2.47 million votes to win his first term as governor over incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who received 1.7 million votes.

The charges against McCann, who formerly operated a construction company, allege he engaged in a scheme from May 2015 to June 2020 to illegally pay himself and make personal purchases totaling more than $200,000 from contributions to his campaign committees.

McCann allegedly used more than $60,000 in campaign funds to partially fund the purchase of a 2017 Ford Expedition in April 2017 and a 2018 Ford F-250 truck in July 2018 that he used for personal travel.

The charges also say McCann, who previously lived with his family in Carlinville, used campaign funds for loan payments on the truck, for fuel and insurance for both vehicles, two separate personal mortgage loans, a personal loan, about $187,000 in direct payments to himself, $52,300 in payments for payroll taxes, credit card payments for a family vacation in Colorado and other personal expense.

In April 2018, McCann allegedly used $18,000 in campaign funds to buy a 2018 recreational travel trailer, and later that year used $25,000 in campaign funds to buy a 2006 recreational motor home, both of which he titled in his name.

He allegedly established a recreational rental business in the state of Ohio, then portrayed himself as a renter and used campaign funds to pay rent to himself for the travel trailer and motor home in 2018.

McCann hasn’t provided any explanation for the spending irregularities other than professing his innocence. He waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead to allow Lawless to issue a verdict.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass opposed another delay in the case, noting Nov. 27 that witnesses for his case against McCann had already, or were planning to, travel from out of town to arrive in Springfield in the coming days to testify.

But McCann indicated to the court that he needed time to contact as many as 50 witnesses, some of whom he hasn’t talked with in years, to prepare for his defense.

“I deserve that as an American citizen, and I need time to find them,” he said.

McCann said he feels badly about inconveniencing the government’s witnesses. But he said “my life and my family’s life” are at stake.

Statements in court and court records indicated McCann filed his request for a new court-appointed attorney on Nov. 24, citing “inadequate representation.” That was the day before he had a phone conference with Schierer in preparation for the trial.

McCann apparently didn’t mention his desire for a new lawyer to Schierer until Nov. 27. Schierer has represented McCann since February.

McCann said he didn’t give Schierer all of the names of witnesses who could testify in his defense because McCann lacked faith in Schierer.

At one point this year, Schierer “looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to prison anyway,’” McCann told the judge.

Schierer told Lawless he never made the comments.

Schierer wouldn’t comment outside the courtroom about McCann’s statement except to say, “I wish him all the best.”

Schierer told the judge that the potential witnesses whose names McCann did give to Schierer and co-counsel Michael Sweis wouldn’t be appropriate to use in McCann’s defense. Their testimony could be used after a conviction to argue for a light sentence, Schierer said.

Bass said McCann was represented by four different federal public defenders before Schierer was appointed. But McCann said outside the courtroom that it wasn’t his fault those lawyers either withdrew from the case or failed to put in the work to properly defend him.

McCann, who has three children and a grandchild, said he is being supported financially by his wife, Vicki McCann, a registered nurse. He said he can’t afford to hire a private attorney.

“It’s obvious that no one is going to take this seriously, certainly as seriously as I do,” he said. “I guess you get what you pay for.”

McCann wouldn’t say whether he has leftover campaign funds that he could use for legal expenses – something Illinois law allows.

“I’m not going to talk about this active case,” McCann said. “I’m not a trained attorney. I don’t pretend to be. I don’t want to get on the bad side of the Department of Justice any more than I already am, and I don’t want to get on the bad side of this judge.”

The last report filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections by McCann’s “McCann for Illinois” campaign committee listed $31,566.85 in remaining funds as of Jan. 15, 2021.

Because the committee hadn’t filed any reports with the board for 12 months, the board terminated the committee and fined the committee $9,250 for failure to timely file required reports.

If there’s any money left in the committee’s account, McCann could legally spend it only if he paid the fine and filed all required reports since January 2021, board spokesperson Matt Dietrich said.

McCann acknowledged to Illinois Times that the latest development in his court case is another chapter in his unconventional political career.

“God bless America,” he said. “I don’t fear those who can kill the flesh. I’m only worried about the one who can, and I know I’m right with Him.

“I’m not worried about these people because they cannot kill my soul. I look forward to presenting a case, and we’ll let the judge sort it out.”

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for almost 50 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Your support will help cover the costs of editorial content published each week. Without local news organizations, we would be less informed about the issues that affect our community..

Click here to show your support for community journalism.

Got something to say?

Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Comments (0)
Add a Comment