KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former prosecutor and chairman of Missouri’s Democratic Party who once was considered a potential candidate for statewide or national office was sentenced Wednesday to more than two years in federal prison for misusing campaign funds for trips, fine wine and political activities.
Mike Sanders also was ordered to forfeit $40,000 after pleading guilty earlier this year conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors asked that he be barred from using any of the more than $400,000 in campaign donations still under his control to pay the fine.
Sanders acknowledged converting $62,000 in political campaign funds into cash in a check-cashing scheme involving a disabled friend from high school. Some of that money was used for political purposes but Sanders admitted spending $15,000 to $40,000 of the cashed checks for personal use, The Kansas City Star reported . He will begin serving his sentence Nov. 5.
The sentence includes three years of supervised release after Sanders serves at least 23 months behind bars.
Judge Roseann Ketchmark rejected Sanders’ request that he serve his sentence in a minimum security federal prison camp in South Dakota, and said his assignment will be left to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
The length of the sentence surprised many seated in the courtroom. Prosecutors had recommended 18 to 24 months in prison. Sanders’ attorneys argued in a sentencing memorandum last week that he deserved a lighter sentence because of his brief military service during the first war in Iraq, as well as his four years as Jackson County prosecutor and nine years as county executive.
“Imprisonment is not always required to deter others from criminal conduct,” attorneys J.R. Hobbs and Marilyn B. Keller wrote. “This wrong will most certainly overshadow if not subsume the good works Mr. Sanders has otherwise accomplished over the course of his career in public service.”
But prosecutors argued that Sanders abused the public’s trust and should be imprisoned for spending the money on himself and what they called “underhanded political shenanigans.”
Sanders admitted stealing campaign funds through a kickback scheme with a former aide from 2009 to 2014. Sanders asked two men he knew from childhood to cash 34 checks made out to them totaling $62,000, supposedly for political work. But more than a month before Sanders’ indictment, one of the men, Steve Hill, told The Star his only duty was to cash the checks, keep a few hundred dollars for himself, then give the rest to Sanders.
Hill eventually cooperated with investigators after learning that prosecutors were investigating a Social Security fraud case against him.
Sanders’ aide, Calvin Williford, who also admitted to stealing campaign money, will be sentenced Thursday on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.