County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell indicted for fraud

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.

 

WICHITA, KAN. – Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell is charged with wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said.

A federal indictment unsealed here today alleges O’Donnell took money from his campaign accounts to put into his personal account and to give to his friends and covered it up by making false reports electronically to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

Michael B. O’Donnell, II, 33, Wichita, Kan., is charged with five counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of money laundering.

The indictment alleges O’Donnell provided false information in five reports he emailed to the state ethics commission in 2016 and 2017. At issue are a series of transactions that the indictment alleges O’Donnell falsely represented as payments made for campaign-related expenses. They include:

• A $1,000 check O’Donnell wrote from his “Michael for Kansas” campaign account to a person identified as C.R. The indictment alleges that after C.R. cashed the check, O’Donnell deposited the $1,000 into his personal checking account.

• A $1,000 check O’Donnell wrote from his “Michael for Kansas” campaign account to a person identified as J.D. After receiving the check, J.D. allegedly wrote a $1,000 personal check to O’Donnell and O’Donnell deposited the $1,000 check into his personal account.

• A total of 12 checks from the “Michael for Kansas” campaign account O’Donnell wrote to a friend identified as D.J., totaling $5,650.

• Three checks O’Donnell wrote from his “Michael for Sedgwick County” account to D.J. totaling $750.

• Six checks O’Donnell wrote from his “Michael for Kansas” account to a friend identified as J.M. totaling $2,100.

Upon conviction, the crimes carry the following penalties:

Wire fraud: Up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.

Bank fraud: Up to 30 years and a fine up to $1 million.

Money laundering: Up to 20 years and a fine up to $500,000.

Special Agent Chuck Pritchett of the FBI and Detective Jon Gill of the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office investigated. Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Smith and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Furst are prosecuting.

In all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The indictments merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.