Politics & Government

O'Donnell indictment surprises, disappoints Kansas lawmakers

Kansas lawmakers reacted with surprise and disappointment Friday upon learning that Sedgwick County commissioner and former state senator Michael O'Donnell had been indicted.
Kansas lawmakers reacted with surprise and disappointment Friday upon learning that Sedgwick County commissioner and former state senator Michael O'Donnell had been indicted. File photo

Word that Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell has been indicted shocked the Statehouse on Friday during the last day of the legislative session.

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.

Ward called the developments disappointing and said if true, the charges will have serious consequences.

A federal indictment unsealed Friday alleges O'Donnell committed money laundering, wire fraud and bank fraud related to use of campaign funds.

O'Donnell sometimes courted controversy while in the Legislature. In 2016, he faced allegations that he brought beer to a student party and that he had purchased alcohol for underage students.

Even after he left the Legislature, he caused a stir when the U.S. Department of Justice revealed in early 2017 that Gov. Sam Brownback's calls with O'Donnell had been swept up as part of a wiretap on O'Donnell.

“It’s always disappointing when a public official is charged with violation of the law, let alone a felony,” said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita.

Sen. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, had not heard of the charges when a reporter approached him. He said he was surprised, but cautioned everybody gets their day in court.

“Wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering. That’s some serious stuff,” he said as he read a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell says he was shocked and puzzled to find out that his phone had been wiretapped by the FBI. (video by Dion Lefler / Feb. 15, 2017)

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