Crime & Courts

County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell denies new fraud, money laundering charges

FILE - In this May 9, 2018, file photo, Sedgwick County Commissioner and former state senator Michael O’Donnell, left, leaves the federal courthouse in Wichita, Kan.
FILE - In this May 9, 2018, file photo, Sedgwick County Commissioner and former state senator Michael O’Donnell, left, leaves the federal courthouse in Wichita, Kan. Travis Heying

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had an incorrect title for Magistrate Judge Gwynne Birzer.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges alleged in a 26-count indictment that was amended last month after his defense attorney filed a dismissal motion.

The new indictment, which continues to allege O’Donnell misspent thousands in election campaign dollars during his bids for the Sedgwick County Commission and the Kansas Senate, supersedes one originally filed April 25. The original indictment, which had a dozen counts, included accusations that O’Donnell sent false expense reports to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

But the ethics-related counts were absent in the grand jury’s Aug. 14 superseding indictment, which was filed three days before a hearing where O’Donnell’s defense attorney planned to argue that the ethics allegations were a state issue that shouldn’t be prosecuted in federal court.

In addition to dropping the ethics-related charges, the new indictment doubled the total number of wire fraud and money laundering counts against the commissioner, requiring he be arraigned in the case a second time.

O’Donnell, 34, previously pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of wire and bank fraud and money laundering.

He appeared briefly before federal Magistrate Judge Gwynne Birzer on Tuesday afternoon to enter his not guilty plea to the 23 counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering alleged in the August indictment. His defense attorney, Mark Schoenhofer, was at his side.

Neither spoke with news media after the hearing.

O’Donnell is scheduled to go to trial in the case on Nov. 13, according to court records. He remains free on a $5,000 unsecured bond.

O’Donnell is accused of converting campaign donations received during his “Michael for Kansas” and “Michael for Sedgwick County” campaigns to his personal use and/or giving money from his campaign accounts to friends for non-campaign purposes.

The new, 26-count indictment cites $10,500 in questionable transactions, including 23 instances in 2015 and 2016 where checks written to three of O’Donnell’s friends were drawn on campaign accounts. Sometimes, the indictment alleges, O’Donnell deposited money from the cashed checks into his personal checking account.

He continues to serve as a Sedgwick County commissioner pending the case’s outcome.

(FILE VIDEO) Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O'Donnell made his first appearance in federal court on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 . O'Donnell is charged with using campaign funds for his personal use.

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Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker
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