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Judge Denies Motion To Dismiss Federal Charges Against Michael O'Donnell

Sean Sandefur
KMUW/File photo

A federal judge on Friday denied a motion to dismiss charges against Sedgwick County Commissioner and former state legislator Michael O’Donnell.

Defense attorneys argued that the case is an overreach by federal prosecutors.

O’Donnell is accused of misusing campaign funds raised during his successful runs for state Senate and the Sedgwick County Commission. Prosecutors allege he took $10,500 from his “Michael for Kansas” and “Michael for Sedgwick County” campaign accounts and wrote checks to his friends, and in some cases, funneled that money to his personal bank account.

An indictment filed in May lists five counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of money laundering. O’Donnell’s attorneys say the crimes he’s accused of should be handled by the state — in which case they would be classified as Class A misdemeanors under the Kansas Campaign Finance Act — and not the federal government.

“At some point, the federal government’s reach has to stop,” Josh Ney said in court. “Congress has already determined where it stops.”

Prosecutor Steven McAllister said “public corruption has always been a concern of the federal government.” He said the government is in within its rights to prosecute a crime even if a state or local agency could oversee the investigation.

In its motion to dismiss, the defense said federal prosecutors “needlessly interjected itself.” O’Donnell, the motion states, only came to the attention of law enforcement during an investigation into other “higher profile persons of interest.”

“Principles of federalism have to be considered by the court,” Ney said.

Judge Eric Melgren said federalism isn’t a legal argument, only a public policy one. He said his authority doesn’t allow him to “opine on what public policy should be.” 

Melgren said there are only “narrow and limited avenues” for dismissal of a federal charge, and he said the defense’s argument may better be used if the case goes to trial.

“Maybe it’s unfair to make an individual go to trial for a charge in which they’ll be acquitted,” he said, but he explained he has limited authority to dismiss criminal charges.

Friday’s hearing was scheduled before prosecutors filed a superseding indictment earlier this week. That indictment effectively replaces the older one, and expands the charges against O’Donnell to 26 counts of wire fraud and money laundering. It drops charges related to his allegedly filing false campaign reports with the state.

Defense attorney Mark Schoenhofer said after the ruling that he was "mildly disappointed" in the judge’s decision and may file additional motions in the future. He called Friday's hearing "the first step in a long process."

O’Donnell has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He's scheduled to be arraigned on the new indictment on Aug. 28.

Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.