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Ex-Illinois lawmaker abruptly pleads guilty to fraud and money laundering, halting federal trial

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Former Illinois lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate William “Sam” McCann abruptly pleaded guilty on Thursday to nine felony counts of wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, halting his federal corruption trial over misusing up to $550,000 in campaign contributions.

McCann, who cut off negotiations over a plea deal last fall when he dismissed his court-appointed attorneys, made the reversal on the third day of a bench trial before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Lawless. His latest lawyer, Jason Vincent, of Springfield, asked that he be released from custody as part of the deal, but Lawless nixed the idea, telling McCann his only option was to offer a no-strings open plea.

The seven counts of wire fraud and single count of money laundering each carry a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. For tax evasion, it’s three. But a complex set of advisory guidelines before Lawless, who set sentencing for June 20, will likely yield a far shorter term.

“Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?” Lawless asked. The 54-year-old McCann, wearing the gray-and-black striped jumpsuit of the nearby county jail where he’s held, replied, “Yes, your honor.”

Lawless set a hearing for Friday on McCann’s release request, but it’s certain to draw opposition from the government and not just because McCann violated probation last week when he left the state to check himself into a hospital with chest pains. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass told Lawless he would introduce as further evidence of McCann’s unreliability a bizarre social media video posted just this week in which McCann claims a government conspiracy involving an “ungodly pack of lies” is against him.

A state senator from 2011 to 2019, McCann formed the Conservative Party of Illinois to campaign for governor in 2018. A criminal indictment in 2021 outlined numerous schemes McCann employed to convert contributions from his campaign committees to buy vehicles, pay an overdue loan, two mortgages, credit card bills and fund a family vacation, entertainment and other purchases.

For his unsuccessful run for governor, he collected more than $3 million dollars from Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers alone. Despite being questioned four times by FBI and IRS agents in summer 2018 about alleged improper spending, he tore through $340,000 in leftover campaign funds for personal expenses in the year after the election.

McCann’s trial was repeatedly delayed. On the day it was supposed to start last November, McCann announced he had dismissed his court-appointed attorneys and would represent himself, telling reporters afterward, “God’s got this.” The proceeding was reset for Feb. 5, but McCann didn’t show, sending a weekend email that he was in a St. Louis-area hospital.

Back in court Feb. 12, a circumspect Lawless questioned McCann closely when he told her he was “medically and psychologically” unable to go to trial and ceded control of his defense to Vincent.

At that point, McCann told the judge he had very little memory of anything that occurred after his Feb. 7 discharge from the hospital, including a 55-mile (89-kilometer) drive last Friday from his home to Springfield to surrender for skirting probation guidelines. He drove a pickup that matched the description of the one the indictment said he used $60,000 in campaign funds to partially purchase.

On Tuesday, while McCann was in jail, the video appeared on Instagram. McCann was driving what appeared to be a truck and told his viewers he was innocent of the charges. He claimed an “Orwellian” government had attempted to nail him for failing to provide assistance on other investigations, offering an extravagant tale about a probe into McCann’s “unholy alliance” with then-House Speaker Michael Madigan to “rig an election.

“I wouldn’t play ball. They came back to me and said, ‘Well, we have you on this,’” McCann says in the video. “And if you just tell us what we want to hear, we’ll stop digging. And I said ‘No, I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear. I will speak the truth.’”

So federal agents continued digging and, McCann said, managed to “turn everything I’ve ever touched” into “these machinations of wrongdoing.”

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