Sam McCann finally has his day in court

Bench trial begins for former elected official accused of misusing campaign funds for personal gain

Sam McCann illegally spent political contributions funded by the union dues of those who saw him as a friend of working people on luxury vehicles, a recreational motor home, trips, personal debts, home mortgage payments and to boost his income.

Those were the allegations contained in evidence and statements presented on Feb. 13 during the first day of McCann’s bench trial in Springfield’s U.S. District Court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass said the illegal campaign spending and tax evasion case against McCann, the unsuccessful Conservative Party candidate for governor in 2018, was about “greed, fraud and arrogance.”

Sam McCann finally has his day in court
PHOTO COURTESY MACON COUNTY
Former state Sen. Sam McCann was taken into federal police custody Feb. 9 to await trial on charges of misuse of campaign funds and tax evasion. He is being held at the Macon County Jail in Decatur.
Bass told Judge Colleen Lawless, who is presiding and will decide McCann’s guilt or innocence, that the former Republican state senator from Macoupin County, who served from 2011 to 2019, used hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to his campaign funds to live “far beyond his means.”

McCann used numerous schemes to conceal the illegal spending from the Illinois State Board of Elections, and he continued the illegal activity even after FBI agents began to question him in early 2018, Bass said.

“There was really no limit to his schemes to steal money,” Bass said in his opening statement at the trial, which was expected to last several days.

McCann, 54, has pleaded not guilty but so far not responded to the criminal allegations for which he was indicted by a grand jury in 2021. He could face a prison term of 20 years or more, if convicted.

McCann sat emotionless and took notes next to his court-appointed attorney, Jason Vincent, who opted to wait until the prosecution finished presenting its case before offering a defense.

McCann was interviewed by FBI agents at least four times in 2018 and “had almost no explanation for almost all” of the activities later charged as crimes in the indictment, Bass said.

At one point, McCann told FBI officials, “‘I would throw myself on the mercy of the court,’” according to Bass.

Even after the gubernatorial election, during which McCann received far fewer votes than incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner or the eventual winner, Democrat JB Pritzker, McCann illegally spent more than $300,000 remaining in his political coffers in 2019, Bass said.

Marc Poulos, executive director of the labor management group of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, testified that the union endorsed McCann for governor and contributed more than $3 million to McCann as a candidate, mostly during his unsuccessful bid for governor.

The union supported McCann because he was viewed as a “labor-friendly” and “lunch-pail” Republican who “stood up for working-class people,” Poulos said.

Poulos testified that the union “would not have been pleased” to know McCann allegedly used some of its campaign contributions to support a lavish personal lifestyle.

McCann began his trial seated in a wheelchair and wearing a gray striped jumpsuit from the Macon County Jail. He had been free since his indictment, but Lawless revoked his pretrial release on Feb. 9 after he repeatedly failed to inform court officials of his whereabouts at various points before, during and after a recent hospital stay in Missouri.

McCann’s wife, Vicki, a registered nurse, drove her husband about an hour from his home to Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis on Feb. 4 after he reportedly fell at home, had chest pain and “almost passed out,” according to medical records later discussed in court.

Doctors at the hospital never diagnosed McCann with any heart problems or other critical health issues during the stay. They discharged him Feb. 8 and said he was alert and oriented, according to evidence presented in court.

Lawless said McCann failed to inform the court that he was headed to the hospital and failed to comply with a court order to notify officials when he arrived back home after discharge.

When McCann showed up for court on Feb. 9, Lawless granted a request from Bass that McCann be taken into police custody for the duration of the trial. Bass said McCann’s hospital stay was “self-created” to delay and manipulate the legal process.

Lawless told McCann on Feb. 9, “There seems to be an excuse every time, and there are no more excuses, sir.”

Bass said McCann was “cleared medically” for the trial, which had been scheduled to begin Feb. 12. But McCann told the judge that day that he wasn’t receiving all of his prescribed medicines while in jail, was feeling chest pain and felt “like I could pass out at any moment.”

He said he didn’t feel “medically or psychologically ready” for the trial to begin. He also told the judge Feb. 12 that he had no recollection of getting dressed, driving to Springfield and appearing in court Feb. 9 even though he engaged in detailed interactions with Lawless about his attempts to update court officials after the hospital discharge.

The four-day hospital stay “left me in a very foggy state,” McCann said Feb. 12.

 McCann had fired his court-appointed attorneys in November, saying he wanted to represent himself. Then on Feb. 12, after conferring with Vincent, who at that time was his court-appointed “stand-by” attorney, McCann decided to allow Vincent to fully represent him at trial.

The judge granted Vincent’s request for an additional day to prepare for trial.

Dean Olsen

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

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