Judge to hear arguments in case against Sedgwick county commissioner

August 17, 2018 - 3:43 pm

A federal judge plans to hear oral arguments Friday on whether the federal government needlessly interjected itself in matters traditionally reserved for states when it charged Sedgwick County commissioner Michael O'Donnell with fraud.

Prosecutors have accused O'Donnell of fraudulently obtaining $10,500 for his personal use from his campaign accounts during his races for the county commission and the Kansas Legislature.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said a hearing before U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren is still scheduled on defense motions just days after prosecutors filed a new indictment. The defense wants the court to dismiss the charges.

In May, O'Donnell pleaded not guilty to the initial 12-count indictment charging him with wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering for allegedly stealing $10,500 from his campaign accounts. The expanded 26-count indictment charges him with wire fraud and money laundering but drops the earlier bank fraud counts and some wire fraud counts related to reports filed with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

His first court appearance to enter a plea on that new indictment is Aug. 28. Such proceedings in federal court are typically brief, and the federal magistrate can only accept a plea of not guilty at that stage.

By contrast, Friday's hearing is expected to go to the core of a possible defense strategy, which seems to have sparked the attention of the judge overseeing the case. The defense has argued that "overzealous prosecution" sometimes occurs when prosecutors throw a wide net. It also contends O'Donnell came to law enforcement's attention during an investigation of others.

Prosecutors argue the indictment alleges federal crimes properly brought before federal courts.

O'Donnell, a Wichita Republican, was elected to the state's Senate in 2012 for a term that ended in January 2017. He did not run for re-election and instead was elected to the Sedgwick County Commission for a term that began in 2017. The term is set to expire in 2020.

He remains free on bond and continues to serve as county commissioner.

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