Ex-Illinois lawmaker abruptly pleads guilty to fraud and money laundering

Litigation Regulations

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.

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