WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Early Friday, KSN’s Craig Andres talked to Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell after a federal jury found him not guilty of nearly all charges of taking campaign funds for personal use. A judge later dismissed the five charges without prejudice at the request of prosecutors.
“I think a nightmare is a fair assessment for what I’ve gone through. It seems surreal,” said O’Donnell.
Before his trial and throughout, O’Donnell said he wasn’t sure why federal prosecutors brought the case against him.
“I knew I did not commit these crimes that I was being charged with, but still to this day, what baffles me is that the FBI never asked me a simple question about any of the 26 charges. They didn’t ask about any of my hiring practices, they didn’t ask for any of my bank statements.”
Michael’s attorney, Mark Schoenhofer, said a plea deal was offered. It wasn’t something Michael refused to take.
“Michael was very brave, more so than most of my clients and many would take a plea deal, and Michael never wanted to be convicted of a single count. He wanted to tell his story.”
Schoenhofer still has questions as to why state campaign finance questions ended up in federal court.
“That’s the question that we’ve been asking for a long time. I don’t think anybody can know other than the U.S. Attorney’s office why they decided to charge this case,” he said. “The problem for the government, in this case, is they were venturing into an area they really didn’t understand. This really was about state campaign finance. They said this candidate was doing all these things wrong. FBI maybe didn’t understand state rules on campaign finance.”
Prosecutors said during the trial the charges were in response to allegations of wrongdoing, and they said justice needed to be served.
A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said the prosecution office did its job and the jury did their job.
As of now, O’Donnell said he’s continuing to focus on his job as county commissioner.
“I’m going to work even harder now and serve my community more diligently than I did before.”
O’Donnell adds the only time he took off work was the week of the trial. He said he’s happy to be back at work this time he says without the charges hanging over his head.
“It’s made life a lot sweeter in a lot of respects. I’m just happy to be outside of the fire right now,” he added. “You’re always going to have people that hate yo, but that’s just politics, but this prosecution, they were out for blood. Frankly, they wanted my political career. It was very personal.”