Federal prosecutors are asking that former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders serve 18 to 24 months in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, rejecting a request from his attorneys for a shorter sentence if not probation or supervised release.
Sanders and his former chief of staff, Calvin Williford, each pleaded guilty in January to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud – that they used campaign money for personal use. Sanders, who also is a former Missouri Democratic Party state chairman and former county prosecutor, is to be sentenced at 11:30 a.m. next Wednesday, at the C.E. Whittaker Federal Courthouse in downtown Kansas City. Williford is to be sentenced at 2:30 p.m., the next day. District Judge Roseann Ketchmark will issue their sentences.
Sanders and Williford face essentially the same possible range of sentences – up to five years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines and possibly a five-figure restitution – up to $40,000 in Sanders' case and up to $50,000 in Williford's, according to court documents. Sanders admitted to taking from $15,000 to $40,000 while Williford admitted taking $40,000 to $95,000.
Prosecutors said both men directed political committee funds to people who did little or no campaign work but cashed checks for that, kept a portion and gave most of it Williford and Sanders. Then, false campaign finance documents were filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Also, Sanders used his administrative assistant to pay for his personal expenses and reimbursed her with cash from committee accounts.
Sanders, prosecutors say in court documents, “owed his county and constituents the duty to uphold and execute the laws of the county. Instead, he spent his years in office misappropriating money from political and campaign accounts and converting the money for his personal use and to hide underhanded political activities.”
Among other things, Sanders and Williford took money to pay for a trip to Las Vegas in November 2014 days after Sanders was easily elected to a third term as county executive. Prosecutors also said Sanders used that money toward trips to California wine country and his own basement wine cellar.
Sanders' actions, prosecutors say, represent an “abuse of position of both public and private trust,” and that various layers of people involved, the false Ethics Commission disclosures and coordination among three political committees constitute a “sophisticated scheme.”
In court documents, Sanders' attorneys, James Hobbs and Marilyn Keller, asked the judge to consider the difference between Sanders' and Williford's activities, as they benefitted separately and to different degrees. They also claimed the “abuse of trust” argument is not applicable because the campaign account treasurers who issued the checks “cannot be said to have placed a special trust in the defendant beyond ordinary reliance on integrity and honesty that underlies every fraud scenario.”
In asking for leniency, Hobbs and Keller cite the 51-year-old Sanders' clean prior history, military service with honorable discharge, career of public service and charitable work with various organizations, voluntarily surrendering his law license, and his history of being devoted husband and father of two boys.
They also note that Sanders has been employed in construction since terminating his law career and has been approached by a metro area clergyman to lead a collaborative violent crime prevention program.
His attorneys say the chance Sanders would commit future crimes is “virtually nonexistent” and that the stigma of having a felony conviction and losing his law license will be damaging enough for Sanders and his reputation.
Sanders, they say, “fully accepts responsibility for his criminal conduct. He does not intend to diminish or excuse his actions.”
If Sanders is sentenced to prison, his attorneys asked the court to recommend that he be sent to the minimum-security Federal Prison Camp Yankton, South Dakota, a converted small-college facility in a town across the Missouri River from Nebraska that generally houses white-collar criminals. The Bureau of Prisons would have the final decision in such a matter.