Government & Politics

Former Kansas lawmaker Michael O'Donnell indicted on bank fraud, wire fraud

Michael O’Donnell, now a member of the Sedgwick County Commission, was a state senator when his phone conversations were monitored in 2015.
Michael O’Donnell, now a member of the Sedgwick County Commission, was a state senator when his phone conversations were monitored in 2015. File photo

Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O'Donnell, a former state senator, has been indicted on federal charges of money laundering, bank fraud and wire fraud.

The charges, unsealed Friday morning, are five counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of money laundering. They relate to his campaign for state Senate.

O’Donnell’s attorney, Mark Schoenhofer, said Friday: “We’re investigating the accusations at this point. That’s all they are is accusations. And we intend to dig in, look at what the government has by way of evidence, and Michael maintains his innocence.”

The basic allegations against O'Donnell, 33, are that he converted campaign funds to his personal use and/or gave money from his campaign account to friends for non-campaign-related purposes.

The indictment also charges that he filed false reports to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission seeking to cover up the illegal payments. The indictment alleges that O’Donnell provided false information in five reports he emailed to the state ethics commission in 2016 and 2017.

O’Donnell served in the Kansas Senate from 2013 through early 2017. During that time, he was often seen as a reliable vote within the Republican caucus at a time when the chamber was firmly under conservative control.

“Michael always played a little fast and loose, but the seriousness of these charges, I don’t think anybody would have predicted this,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita.

The indictment cites $10,500 in questionable transactions:

▪ 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.

O'Donnell has been seen as a rising star in Kansas Republican politics, but he has had his share of trouble along the way.

His career as an officeholder began in 2011, when, at age 26, he won a City Council seat representing southwest Wichita.

The following year, he was on the state ballot, part of an effort by Republican conservatives to purge the party of moderate legislators who clashed with Gov. Sam Brownback on taxes and education.

O'Donnell didn't wait to finish his first Senate term before running for and winning a seat on the Sedgwick County Commission. The job is perceived as a step up from the Legislature because it's full-time, pays better and it's easier to get things done as one of five commissioners than as one of 40 senators.

Fellow County Commissioner Richard Ranzau on Friday immediately called on O'Donnell to resign from the County Commission.

When asked if O’Donnell will resign, Schoenhofer said: “I doubt it.”

Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau accused commissioner Michael O'Donnell of lying to the public while discussing whether to restore a job for a community health surveyor.

The Eagle's Jonathan Shorman contributed to this article.
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