Former Illinois GOP lawmaker’s trial again delayed amid last-minute hospitalization

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Former Republican state Sen. Sam McCann speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Springfield on Monday, Nov. 27. Though his rescheduled corruption trial was set to begin Monday, McCann was instead hospitalized and unable to make it to court. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Hannah Meisel)

SPRINGFIELD – Instead of laying out his defense in his long-awaited federal corruption trial on Monday morning, former State Sen. Sam McCann was hospitalized in Missouri after a weekend of feeling unwell, according to his wife and a standby attorney.

McCann had been granted an extension of his trial in late November after ditching his court-appointed attorney the morning opening arguments were set to begin and announcing he’d instead be representing himself. At the time, he told reporters he was confident in his ability to defend his case because “God’s got this.”

Read more: Former GOP senator, third-party governor candidate to represent himself in corruption trial

But 10 weeks later, McCann was missing in action in U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless’ courtroom. His standby attorney Jason Vincent – the only one of his most recent team of court-appointed attorneys he’d allowed to continue being associated with his case – said his client was in the hospital having been ill over the weekend, including passing out on Saturday night.

In a brief Zoom videoconference several hours later, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois Timothy Bass told the judge he’d subpoenaed Missouri Baptist Hospital for McCann’s medical records, and indicated the hospital’s legal department was cooperating. After another brief check-in with the parties late Monday afternoon, Lawless scheduled another status hearing for 9 a.m. Tuesday.

In the early afternoon hearing, Bass was skeptical of McCann’s wife’s account of what happened to her husband, noting that she’d been his campaign committee treasurer and benefitted from the alleged crimes outlined in McCann’s February 2021 indictment. McCann is accused of misusing campaign funds over several years and faces seven counts of wire fraud and one count each of money laundering and tax evasion.

Read more: Former GOP state Senator, Conservative Party candidate for governor indicted

Bass noted that instead of checking him into a local hospital near his home in Plainview, roughly 60 miles south of Springfield – or going to one of the larger medical centers in Springfield – McCann’s wife Vicki instead drove him out of state, to western St. Louis County.

“From the government’s perspective, your honor, her credibility is very suspect,” Bass said, also informing the judge that Vicki McCann had failed to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena in her role as campaign committee treasurer.

He also suggested the judge could issue a warrant for McCann’s arrest upon his release from the hospital.

“We are all rather speculating as to how he got where he is,” Lawless said when weighing her options aloud for the court.

Probation officer Michelle Cyrus said she’d been in touch with Vicki McCann late Monday morning, who said her husband was undergoing diagnostic testing but had been unable to relay anything more specific about his condition. Bass said a special agent had tried to get the same information out of Vicki McCann earlier in the day but she’d refused, citing HIPAA law.

Lawless said she couldn’t “in good conscience at this point” force McCann to sign a HIPAA waiver without knowing he was mentally capable of doing so.

Bass said three witnesses had flown in from out-of-state for the trial and were scheduled to return home on Wednesday, while another witness had driven down to Springfield from Chicago. But Lawless told Bass he’d need to temper his expectations for getting trial underway on Tuesday.

“The likelihood he’ll be physically able to attend tomorrow is minimal,” the judge said, noting that the reality of McCann’s hospitalization didn’t preclude the possibility of revoking his bond or forcing him to attend court remotely.

“Having testing done does not mean you’re unable to appear by video for your criminal proceeding,” she said.

McCann spent eight years in the General Assembly, most of that time as a Republican whose district included Pike County. But in 2018 he left the GOP he believed 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 earlier, McCann had gone toe-to-toe with Rauner in a battle over his Senate seat but 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. 

He 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 2017 Ford Expedition and a 2018 Ford F-250 pickup truck – along with the fuel and insurance costs for the vehicles – McCann also allegedly purchased two recreational vehicles with campaign funds.

He sought to turn those RVs into a business opportunity, according to the feds, establishing an account with an RV rental business in Ohio to rent out the vehicles. He’d put that account under the name “Sam McCann.”

At that same company, McCann made another account as a potential renter under the name “William McCann” – his legal first name – and proceeded to “rent” the vehicles to himself, paid for by campaign funds. 

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.

Shortly after being indicted, McCann claimed he was unemployed and had very little money to his name, while facing tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

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.

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