Sam McCann pleads guilty during trial

Former state senator admits guilt on nine felony charges related to misuse of campaign funds

Former state Sen. Sam McCann pleaded guilty to all nine felony charges related to misuse of campaign funds for personal benefit on Feb. 15, one day before his bench trial was expected to end and as he considered taking the stand in his defense.

McCann previously said his prosecution in Springfield’s U.S. District Court was politically motivated and that he wasn’t worried about going to prison because “God’s got this.”

Sam McCann pleads guilty during trial
Former state Sen. Sam McCann was taken into federal police custody Feb. 9 and is being held at the Macon County Jail in Decatur. One day before his bench trial was expected to end, he pleaded guilty to all nine felony charges against him.
McCann stopped the bench trial and eventually said to Judge Colleen Lawless the phrase, “Guilty, your honor,” in response to the seven counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of tax evasion he faced in a 2021 grand jury indictment.

McCann, 54, of the Carlinville-area community of Plainview, changed his plea on the third day of his much-delayed trial stemming from alleged conduct between 2015 and mid-2020.

He didn’t explain his change of heart in court and wouldn’t comment when asked by an Illinois Times reporter as he left the courtroom in the custody of U.S. marshals.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 20. The charges carry a potential prison term of 20 years or more, though McCann is expected to receive a far shorter term than that because of the amount of ill-gotten money.

McCann's request for release until sentencing was denied Feb. 16 by Lawless, who said she believed McCann might try to harm himself or flee.

In making the decision, Lawless cited her Feb. 9 decision revoking his pretrial release. She said at the time that McCann violated her orders by failing to notify court officials of his whereabouts before and soon after a several-day stay at a St. Louis hospital this month. McCann is being held at the Macon County Jail in Decatur.

McCann has used a wheelchair in court since his discharge Feb. 8 from Missouri Baptist Medical Center, which he entered several days earlier while complaining of chest pain. Doctors discharged him without diagnosing any heart issues.

Lawless said her decision also was based on a recently posted Instagram video in which McCann proclaimed his innocence and said FBI members tried to convince him to make false statements.

Lawless said the video, which she believes was made by McCann while driving from his Macoupin County home to court on Feb. 9, proved he was lying to her Feb. 12. McCann told the judge Feb. 12 that his memory was so foggy from the recent hospital stay that he didn't remember driving to court Feb. 9 or being in court that day.

Lawless listened while the 13-minute Instagram video was played in court Feb. 16. She said McCann was coherent during the video and didn't display any mental or physical impairments.

click to enlarge Sam McCann pleads guilty during trial
Here is a screen shot from Sam McCann's McCann for Governor Instagram page.
McCann said on the video, posted on Instagram Feb. 13, that he was innocent and that federal law enforcement officials were “coming after me with an ungodly pack of lies.”

Lawless said McCann's statements on the video that he was willing to die for his country and his words of farewell to his children made her worry that he would harm himself if released from police custody.

Assistant U.S. Timothy Bass said McCann's guilty plea, which was made without any offer of concessions from prosecutors, proved McCann also was lying in the statements he made on the video about the FBI.

McCann, a former Republican member of the General Assembly, representing parts of Springfield and other sections of central Illinois, was indicted by a federal grand jury three years ago. That was more than two years after he left the Senate, where he served for eight years.

The charges alleged that he used elaborate schemes to illegally boost his personal income, be paid more for travel expenses than was allowed, and acquire vehicles, a motor home and a trailer.

Bass said McCann diverted up to $550,000 in contributions to his campaigns for Senate and his unsuccessful Conservative Party bid for governor in 2018.

McCann never justified the diversion of that money in court documents or testimony. The criminal activity took place between May 2015 and June 2020, Bass said.

McCann’s plea came after several hours of recorded interviews with FBI agents made in July 2018 in which the agents asked him about campaign spending and reporting discrepancies.

McCann sounded surprised in one of the recordings when the agents pointed out potential illegalities connected with McCann’s use of campaign funds, including his purchase of a motor home and trailer with campaign funds and his use of an Ohio company to then rent the vehicles to himself under a different name.

Even though he reimbursed his campaign $18,000 for one of the vehicles, the agents pointed out to McCann that it was improper to use campaign contributions to buy vehicles he would continue to own after the gubernatorial campaign was over.

The recordings played in court didn’t include any response from McCann to the information. 

FBI Special Agent Charles Willenberg testified that the rental arrangement, with money paid by campaign funds, resulted in personal benefit to McCann of almost $78,000.

The agents told McCann that prosecutors could consider leniency in any potential charges against him if McCann could offer some evidence of other illegal behavior in state government that the FBI could investigate.

McCann said on the recording that he would need to talk with his wife, Vicki, before responding.

Testimony Feb. 13 included information from one witness, Cynthia Miller, who started working for McCann during his 2010 run for an Illinois Senate seat and continued working for him for several years on campaigns and in his district office.

Capitol New Illinois reported that Miller said she had an “on and off” romantic relationship with McCann from 2011 to 2017. Sam and Vicki McCann have been married since 1994.

Capitol News Illinois reporter Hannah Meisel wrote that Miller's relationship with McCann eventually became “toxic” as she began to discover that McCann was misspending funds and the two had verbal confrontations when she pointed out questionable spending to him.

Rebecca Workman, McCann's half-sister, who lives in Summersville, West Virginia, said in a phone interview Feb. 16 that "the whole family is devastated and shocked" by the allegations against McCann and his guilty plea.

"I can't believe he did it," said Workman, 57. "He wasn't raised that way. But we love him."

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

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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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