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Indicted former lawmaker’s corruption trial up in the air after hospitalization forces delay

The Paul Findley Federal Courthouse is pictured in Springfield.
Hannah Meisel
Capitol News Illinois
The Paul Findley Federal Courthouse is pictured in Springfield.

Sporting a 5 o’clock shadow and a slight grimace, former Republican State Sen. Sam McCann held his phone very close to his face as he videoconferenced into a federal courtroom from his hospital bed in St. Louis late Tuesday afternoon.

McCann’s sudden hospitalization has muddied the timeline as to when his already-delayed trial for misuse of campaign funds will begin.

Read more: Former GOP lawmaker’s trial again delayed amid last-minute hospitalization

McCann told U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless that he was “hooked up to nitroglycerin and saline right now” and wasn’t sure when he’d be discharged from Missouri Baptist Hospital and be able to make it to her courtroom. McCann had been set to represent himself in his federal corruption trial starting Monday morning.

Read more: Former GOP senator, third-party governor candidate to represent himself in corruption trial

“I have no idea,” McCann said, his head supported by a black posture pillow. “I do not know. No one has told me.”

He again affirmed what he told Lawless on Tuesday morning via speakerphone through his standby attorney’s presence on Zoom: that he’d be willing to begin trial Wednesday morning so long as he was released from the hospital at a “reasonable” time.

Lawless interpreted “reasonable” as 8 p.m. Tuesday evening, but said if he were released after that time, the trial could still begin on Wednesday, albeit later than its scheduled 9 a.m. start. It was unclear as of the 4 p.m. hearing whether he would be released Tuesday night.

McCann’s trial had most recently been scheduled for late November but was put off for 10 weeks after he surprised his own court-appointed attorneys by firing them the morning proceedings were about to begin.

“This is clearly a manufactured crisis by the defendant,” U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass told Lawless via videoconference during a brief hearing earlier on Tuesday.

Bass also read excerpts from McCann’s sealed medical records, noting doctors recorded him in “no pain or distress” and “well-nourished” upon checking into Missouri Baptist Hospital. He added that McCann “denies any depression or anxiety” and that only one test McCann underwent in the hospital came back with a “slight abnormality,” though he was careful not to reveal any personal medical information.

McCann defended himself after Bass said the government was “suspicious” that McCann had engaged in a “creation of these conditions.”

“This is not a manufactured (crisis),” McCann said. “If this was, I would not have signed the release yesterday.”

Lawless was not pleased to learn that McCann had – for the three years since he was indicted –been leaving the Central District of Illinois without telling his probation officer, as he thought he was free to travel to the rest of Illinois and St. Louis County as part of his bond.

“It’s not good faith when you do not comply with your conditions of bond,” the judge said, noting she didn’t intend to cite him for breaking the rules for checking into a hospital outside state lines.

McCann spent eight years in the General Assembly, most of that time as a Republican. But in 2018 he left the GOP he believed wasn’t conservative enough under then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. He then established the “Conservative Party” in Illinois and ran for governor on a third-party platform backed by organized labor – one of Rauner’s major foes.

Read more: Former GOP state Senator, Conservative Party candidate for governor indicted

Two years prior, McCann had gone toe-to-toe with Rauner in a battle over his Senate seat but won against the well-funded candidate the governor had backed against him.

During those election battles, McCann allegedly “engaged in a scheme to convert more than $200,000 in contributions and donations made to his campaign committees to pay himself and make personal purchases,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office at the time of his indictment.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.