Crime

Mike Sanders’ right-hand man sentenced; officials note his cooperation in other cases

Calvin Williford, former top aide to Mike Sanders, is seen leaving the federal courthouse in Kansas City earlier this year after pleading  guilty to a corruption charge stemming from alleged misuse of campaign funds. On Thursday he was sentenced to six months in prison.
Calvin Williford, former top aide to Mike Sanders, is seen leaving the federal courthouse in Kansas City earlier this year after pleading guilty to a corruption charge stemming from alleged misuse of campaign funds. On Thursday he was sentenced to six months in prison. along@kcstar.com

The sentencing of former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders’ top aide on Thursday does not end a federal inquiry into public corruption.

Calvin Williford cooperated on three investigations — two of them ongoing. Had he not, Judge Roseann Ketchmark said from the bench Thursday, he would have garnered more than the six-month prison sentence that she handed him.

Most surprising to those listening in the courthouse was that only one of those investigations was previously public knowledge. That’s the one that resulted in both Sanders and Williford pleading guilty to stealing tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to pay for personal expenditures, including pleasure trips to California and Las Vegas, as well as political dirty tricks.

The other two probes were new information. Ketchmark and the attorneys appearing before her referred to those investigations only cryptically. First on Wednesday when she sentenced Sanders to more than two years in prison, and then again on Thursday as Williford learned his fate.

On Thursday, Ketchmark, Williford’s attorney and federal prosecutors took pains to avoid disclosing details of those investigations, including sealing Williford’s and the government’s sentencing memos from public view.

But they made several references to them and said they were active and ongoing. One investigation involves a lobbying contract and another is a scheme in which Williford was a witness, but not a participant. The first matter was not under investigation until Williford disclosed it; the other had been on the government’s radar, but he filled in the gaps.

Williford left the courthouse without making any comment. His attorney, Brian Gaddy, declined to discuss the two investigations in deference to the federal government.

Williford’s punishment was far lighter than that of his former boss, who in addition to 27 months in prison was ordered to forfeit $40,000.

Williford faced up to 21 months in prison, but saw that drastically reduced for his cooperation. He also must pay the government $36,000, an amount that represents $2,000 stolen from campaign accounts for each of 18 trips that Williford made to Las Vegas to gamble.

Williford alleged that Sanders not only accompanied him on those trips, but was the instigator and stole an equal amount of campaign funds to cover his expenses. But Sanders denied that, a discrepancy that troubled Ketchmark.

She asked Williford for an explanation.

“I think he’s trying to protect his wife... The third party on those trips was Georgia,” Williford told the judge.

Georgia Sanders is employed by Jackson County as a legislative aide to Garry Baker. She is not named in any of the court documents surrounding the case and has not been charge with anything.

J.R. Hobbs, attorney for Sanders, was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Williford was accompanied in the courtroom by family and supporters, including community activist Alvin Brooks.

Gaddy, in pleading with Ketchmark to consider no time behind bars for his client, noted that Williford rebuilt his life from drug addiction, having had his last taste of drugs or alcohol on July 14, 1988. Williford, Gaddy said, has gone on to sponsor more than 50 others in their recovery from addiction.

Rick Gray, a St. Louis man, said he met Williford in drug treatment and has been sober for 23 years with Williford’s assistance.

“Without Cal, I would not be here today,” he said.

Williford, who wept intermittently during the proceedings, told Ketchmark that he took responsibility for his actions.

“I’m filled with so much remorse and regret,” Williford said, choking up as he spoke from a lectern just a few feet away from Ketchmark in her eighth-story courtroom at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City. “I’m guilty. I knowingly disregarded Missouri campaign laws and federal laws.”

Gaddy asked that Williford be placed on probation as a reward for cooperating with the government and his otherwise exemplary life. But Ketchmark said Williford’s punishment needed to reflect the seriousness of his crime, one which required at least some time in prison as both punishment and deterrence to others.

“I’m on board with you that (Williford) has impressive work,” Ketchmark told Gaddy. “But probation? You know the folks in town will say that’s a slap on the wrist.”

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