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Former lawmaker taken into custody amid delays to his corruption trial after sudden hospitalization

Sam McCann

 

Judge declares Sam McCann out of ‘excuses’ for violating probation orders after discharge

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois

Former Republican State Sen. Sam McCann, a onetime third-party candidate for governor, was taken into custody the morning of Fri. Feb. 9, ahead of his federal corruption trial on charges he misused campaign funds.

The arrest caps a bizarre week that was supposed to have seen his corruption trial begin and end – until a last-minute hospitalization forced its postponement until Monday.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless had ordered McCann to communicate with the federal probation office upon his discharge from Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis, where he’d checked himself in after a weekend of feeling unwell.

But McCann was only able to prove he’d emailed his probation officer on Wednesday, when he was told he’d be discharged from the hospital later in the day. Accompanied by an assistant U.S. marshal, McCann went to retrieve his cell phone from his Ford F-250 pickup truck parked outside the courthouse – the same make and model of a vehicle prosecutors allege McCann partially funded illegally with campaign cash – in order to show Lawless he’d also emailed the probation officer when he got home, like he’d been ordered to.

But he couldn’t find anything in his sent email folder.

“I don’t see it, your honor,” McCann said. “I know that I sent it. I know that I hit ‘send’ twice.”

Another probation officer told the judge that the office had called McCann and his wife multiple times and sent multiple texts but hadn’t heard anything back from them. McCann also claimed he didn’t see any of the missed calls or texts on his phone.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass wondered aloud how McCann had known about Friday morning’s hearing, which had been scheduled the prior afternoon, if he was having so much trouble with his phone.

McCann replied that his standby attorney had emailed him about it.

Lawless said McCann’s behavior was the “continuation of a pattern” and that she couldn’t conclude anything other than that he’d “violated (his) conditions of release,” and said he’d be taken into custody with the U.S. marshals “immediately” until his trial commences Monday morning.

“There seems to be an excuse every time,” Lawless said. “There are no more excuses, sir.”

The former lawmaker had suddenly ditched his court-appointed attorneys in late November, the morning his trial was supposed to begin the last time around. Because he’d be representing himself in a high-stakes trial, Lawless said it was in the interest of justice to grant McCann a 10-week continuance in order to prepare.

But 10 weeks later, McCann was missing in action on Monday morning, the day his rescheduled trial was set to begin. Instead, his standby attorney Jason Vincent told Lawless that McCann had checked himself into a hospital in St. Louis for unspecified symptoms.

After a few incremental status hearings, McCann videoconferenced into Lawless’ Springfield courtroom on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, telling the judge he was on a nitroglycerin drip and that he did “not know that I can put a coherent thought together.”

Judge Lawless delayed the trial after that, over Bass’ objections. Bass again on Friday pointed out that all but one of McCann’s tests in the hospital had come back “normal.” He also directed Lawless’ attention to a note in McCann’s hospital records – filed to the court under seal – that said McCann claimed to have fallen in the shower before he was discharged, but that “even after this alleged fall…he was stable for discharge,” Bass said.

After McCann returned to the courtroom after getting his phone, Bass told the assistant marshals to be prepared if McCann “passes out” – something he’d claimed to have done on Saturday night before checking himself into the hospital.

McCann stayed upright, however, and walked with the marshals out of the courtroom and across the hall into a room that appeared to have a holding cell inside. A guard indicated he’d likely be in there for a while for processing.

McCann spent eight years in the General Assembly, most of that time as a Republican. But in 2018 he left the GOP, which he said wasn’t conservative enough under then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. He then established the “Conservative Party” in Illinois and ran for governor on a third-party platform backed by organized labor – one of Rauner’s major foes.

Two years prior, McCann had gone toe-to-toe with Rauner in a battle over his Senate seat. He won against the well-funded candidate the governor had backed against him.

During those election battles, McCann allegedly “engaged in a scheme to convert more than $200,000 in contributions and donations made to his campaign committees to pay himself and make personal purchases,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office at the time of his indictment.

McCann allegedly used some of that money to pay his mortgage and personal debts, buy personal vehicles, and even paid himself.

In addition to spending roughly $60,000 on a truck and SUV, McCann also allegedly purchased two recreational vehicles with campaign funds.
Prosecutors allege McCann sought to use those RVs as part of a scheme to channel campaign funds to himself through an Ohio RV rental business.

McCann also allegedly spent $50,000 in campaign funds on credit card payments related to a family vacation in Colorado and charges from Apple iTunes, Amazon, a skeet and trap club, Cabela’s, Scheels, Best Buy, a gun store and cash withdrawals.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.