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.”

McCann stopped the bench trial and eventually said t
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.
o Judge Colleen Lawless the McCanphrase, “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.

The 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy 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 those expenses in court documents or testimony, though he said in a post apparently recorded Feb. 9 and posted on his long-dormant McCann for Governor Instagram page Feb. 13 that he was innocent and that federal law enforcement officials were “coming after me with an ungodly pack of lies.”

The rambling 13-minute post apparently was made while McCann was driving to court on Feb. 9, Bass said.

The post was mentioned in court Feb. 15 and wasn’t public when McCann told Lawless on Feb. 12, after he had been taken into custody, that his memory was so foggy that he didn’t remember coming to court or being in court Feb. 9.

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 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. McCann was married at the time.

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.

McCann has used a wheelchair in court since his discharge Feb. 8 from a St. Louis hospital, which he entered several days earlier while complaining of chest pain.

McCann’s lack of notifying court officials of his whereabouts before and soon after that hospital stay – when doctors didn’t diagnose him with any heart problems – prompted the judge to revoke his pretrial release. He is being held at the Macon County Jail in Decatur.

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

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