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Crime and Courts

Sedgwick County Commissioner, Former State Senator Michael O'Donnell Charged In Federal Indictment

Nadya Faulx
KMUW/File photo

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

A federal indictment unsealed Friday accuses O'Donnell, a Republican, of taking money from his campaign accounts and using it to pay himself and his friends. He's also accused of falsely reporting the expenditures to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

O'Donnell, 33, did not return a message seeking comment. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million.

In addition to serving as a county commissioner, O'Donnell also has been elected to the Wichita City Council and Kansas Senate.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who has publicly accused O'Donnell of unethical behavior over the last year, is calling for O'Donnell to resign.

"I think at some point we have to say, enough is enough, and he needs to resign effective immediately so this commission can move on and begin to regain the trust of the community," Ranzau said.

But O'Donnell's attorney, Mark Schoenhofer, says he does not plan to resign.

"At this stage Michael is asserting his innocence and wants to continue in his career," he said.

Read the indictment here.

The alleged scheme involved writing checks from O'Donnell's "Michael for Kansas" and "Michael for Sedgwick County" campaign accounts to various individuals, the indictment said. The checks were represented as campaign-related expenses, but in several cases were cashed and then deposited into O'Donnell's personal checking account.

The falsely represented payments include:

  • 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.

The total amount of the checks is $10,500. They were written in 2015 and 2016.
In a news release, Sedgwick County Commission Chairman David Dennis said the commission only knows as much as the public does.

“As elected officials, we will continue to monitor and consult with the proper authorities about any implications to Sedgwick County while also recognizing due process is important for any citizen," he said.

"Sedgwick County will support anything the U.S. Attorney’s Office needs or requires during their process."

In a later interview, Dennis said he was not surprised by the indictment.

"There's been things going on for some time, that we've been aware of, we've just been waiting to see what the outcome of it was," he said.

The reaction from former colleagues in the Legislature was similar. Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said while he's not surprised by the allegations, it's still upsetting.

"It reflects poorly on all public officials when charges like this are brought," he said.

Several people across the state, including Brownback, were notified in February 2017 by the Department of Justice that phone calls between them and O'Donnell had been intercepted in June and July 0f 2015. O'Donnell was a state senator at the time. It was unclear then what the Department of Justice was investigating.

O’Donnell, a native of Wichita, was elected to the Wichita City Council in 2011 and served until 2013. He resigned after being elected to the Kansas Senate in November 2012.

O’Donnell defeated incumbent Sen. Jean Schodorf in the primary that year, part of an effort by Gov. Sam Brownback to replace moderate Republicans with more conservative senators.

O’Donnell left the Senate to run for Sedgwick County Commission. He upset longtime incumbent Tim Norton in November 2016. His district includes southwest Wichita, Haysville and Clearwater.

O'Donnell is a graduate of Friends University and serves on numerous boards in Wichita. He most recently served as chairman of the Sedgwick County Young Republicans, according to his biography on Sedgwick County's website.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment and energy for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.