Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:40 p.m. Friday, May 4.
By Sam Jack
Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell (R-Wichita) has been charged with 12 counts of wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.
A grand jury indictment unsealed Friday morning alleges that O’Donnell misused funds from his Kansas State Senate and Sedgwick County Commission campaign accounts.
The indictment states that on Jan. 2, 2016, O’Donnell wrote campaign-account checks to two people, identified as C.R. and J.D., for $1,000 each. C.R. then gave O’Donnell $1,000 in cash, while J.D. wrote O’Donnell a personal check for $1,000.
Between January 30, 2015 and Aug. 18, 2016, O’Donnell also drew on campaign funds to pay $8,500 to two other people, identified as D.J. and J.M. He then falsified finance reports to reflect legitimate campaign expenses, the indictment says.
O’Donnell was a state senator during the timeframe in question, but three checks for a total of $750 came out of his “Michael for Sedgwick County” campaign account.
The charges against O’Donnell include five counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of money laundering. Maximum prison sentences and fines range up to 30 years and $1 million.
The first hint of legal trouble for O’Donnell came in February 2017, when the public learned that O’Donnell had been the target of an FBI wiretap in the spring and summer of 2015. Around the same time, investigators tapped phones belonging to three other Wichita men – Daven Flax, Danny Chapman and Brandon Steven.
Flax and Chapman have since pleaded guilty to gambling-related charges. The assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting O’Donnell are also those prosecuting the gambling cases, but the indictment against O’Donnell makes no mention of gambling. This February, O’Donnell denied knowing Flax and Chapman.
Fourth district county commissioner Richard Ranzau (R-Wichita) called for O’Donnell’s resignation minutes after news of the indictment broke.
Ranzau has been vocal in attacking O’Donnell’s integrity since Nov. 8, when he made a motion calling for his colleague’s removal as county commission chair. He cited O’Donnell’s “legal trouble” and accused him of generally shady dealings.
“He’s operating in a way completely different than anything I’ve ever seen on this commission,” Ranzau said last December. “Anytime we have a situation, he’ll say, ‘I know this person. Let me see if I can connect the dots.'”
O’Donnell has served in public office since 2011, when he won a Wichita city council seat. In 2012, he won a seat in the Kansas State Senate. In November 2016, he won the Second District seat on the Sedgwick County Commission, defeating incumbent Tim Norton (D-Haysville) by a slim margin.
Below is the news release from the United States District Attorney’s office.