WICHITA, Kan. — A federal indictment unsealed Friday accuses Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O'Donnell of stealing $10,500 from his campaign accounts to put into his personal bank account and to give to friends, and then covering it up by making false reports.
O'Donnell, 33, is charged with five counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of money laundering. He was issued a summons to appear May 9 in U.S. District Court in Wichita for his first appearance.
O'Donnell did not respond to phone and email messages. His defense attorney, Mark Shoenhofer, said in a phone interview that his client plans to "continue to serve the people of Sedgwick County and that won't change unless something happens in this case, and we don't anticipate anything happening at this point."
Other commissioners were generally supportive of letting the legal process play out with the exception of Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who urged O'Donnell to resign immediately so the commission can begin to build trust with the community.
"Mr. O'Donnell's time in elective office has been overshadowed by investigations and questionable judgment," Ranzau said. "I have been deeply troubled by O'Donnell's repeated efforts to use his position to help his friends and campaign contributors. This is why I have opposed and spoken out against his actions on numerous occasions."
O'Donnell, a Wichita Republican, was elected to the Kansas State Senate in 2012 for a term that ended in January 2017. He did not run for re-election and instead was elected to the Sedgwick County Commission for a term that began in 2017 and is set to expire in 2020.
The 12-count indictment, which had been initially filed under seal on April 25, outlines a scheme whereby O'Donnell allegedly wrote a series of checks from his campaign accounts to various people who would cash the checks. Some of the money went into his personal checking account and some to friends. The indictment identifies the people who cashed the checks only by their initials.
"My client asserts his innocence and we are just at the stage of waiting for the government to provide something in support of their accusations," Shoenhofer said.
Commission Chairman David Dennis said in an emailed statement that commissioners learned about the indictment Friday and they only know what is in the public court record.
"As elected officials, we will continue to monitor and consult with the proper authorities about any implications to Sedgwick County while also recognizing due process is important for any citizen," Dennis said.
That sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Dave Unruh who issued a separate statement saying it's important to follow the legal process. Commissioner Jim Howell said the allegations have nothing to do with O'Donnell serving alongside them, and urged "mutual respect" for all commission members.
Prosecutors outlined in the indictment a series of transactions, including a couple of $1,000 checks written in January 2016 from his "Michael for Kansas" campaign account that were cashed by someone else and the money deposited into O'Donnell's personal account. Other transactions include 12 checks drawn between January 2015 and August 2016 from that same campaign account totaling $5,750 to a friend, six checks totaling $2,100 to another friend written between December 2015 and May 2016. He also allegedly wrote three checks totaling $750 from his "Michael for Sedgwick County" campaign account to a friend.
The indictment alleges O'Donnell falsely represented the transactions to be campaign-related expenses in five reports filed with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
Several people, including then Gov. Sam Brownback and other state officials, received notification letters last year from the U.S. Justice Department telling them that the federal government intercepted phone calls between them and O'Donnell's phone number. O'Donnell told reporters last year that he was shocked to learn that his phone was tapped in 2015.