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Prosecutor says McCann made personal use of campaign funds even after fed investigation

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — William “Sam” McCann continued to fund a lavish lifestyle with campaign contributions even after the former legislator and gubernatorial candidate admitted wrongdoing to federal investigators, a prosecutor said Tuesday in the opening of a corruption trial he characterized as defined by “greed, fraud and arrogance.”

McCann, 54, a former Republican state senator, was questioned four times about personal spending from campaign accounts by FBI and IRS agents in the summer of 2018 while he was mounting a third-party campaign for governor, assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass said. In recorded interviews, he said McCann acknowledged the misspending in some of the instances raised by the officers and told them if prosecuted he would “throw" himself "on the mercy of the court.”

After he had been soundly defeated in the 2018 race for governor, Bass said he burned through $340,000 of personal expenses from the campaign fund he established as the standard bearer for the newly formed Conservative Party of Illinois.

“This case is about three words: Greed, fraud and arrogance,” Bass said in his opening statement in the bench trial before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Lawless. “Greed in the sense of a lifestyle far beyond his means. Fraud in the means by which he achieved that lifestyle. Arrogance in continuing that lifestyle after he was confronted by law enforcement.”

McCann, who lives in Plainview, 55 miles (89 kilometers) south of Springfield, faces seven counts of wire fraud and single counts of money laundering and tax evasion for allegedly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into paying expenses including a loan in arrears, mortgage payments, credit card bills, a family vacation to Colorado and to buy an SUV and large pickup.

In what Bass termed “an egregious example,” McCann bought an RV and a trailer, put them up for rent through an online service, then “split himself in two” by using two different names: Sam McCann offered the vehicles for rent while William McCann leased them with political contributions.

The trial finally got underway after multiple delays, most recently McCann's hospitalization for chest pain and fainting spells. The scheduled November trial was put off when he declared that he would represent himself. After last week's illness he ceded his defense to Jason Vincent, who had been on standby.

Vincent deferred his opening statement until the beginning of the defense's case.

Cynthia Miller, who was hired for McCann's successful 2010 Senate campaign and continued working in his Senate district office, testified to the friction that developed with McCann as she started seeing disbursements that didn't seem appropriate.

There were checks to McCann's bank labeled “rent” that made no sense. Miller testified that she wasn't aware of a political account for McCann until a statement arrived that listed spending on jewelry and a water park in the Chicago suburb of Gurnee. When she questioned him about reimbursing himself for mileage while using a campaign debit card to buy gasoline for the same vehicles, Miller said McCann gave her the routine answer given for other expenditure inquiries.

“He basically said I didn't need to worry about that or it wasn't any of my business,” said Miller, who told McCann to enter such transactions himself on Illinois State Board of Elections campaign disclosure statements.

Earlier, Mark Poulos, executive director of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, testified that the union gave McCann's Conservative Party candidacy for governor more than $3 million in cash or in-kind contributions, viewing him as a “lunch-pail Republican” who supported the working class.

Poulos said McCann won enough support in some parts of the state that it was possible that the Conservative Party could have been an established, local party in the next election. But he said McCann didn't use any of the contributed funds to capitalize on momentum or to recruit future candidates, nor did he return any of the money.

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This story has been corrected to show that the race for governor was in 2018, not 2019.