KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders entered a guilty plea Friday afternoon in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to inappropriate use of campaign donations. Investigators say Sanders funneled money back to himself in a scheme in which his chief of staff, Calvin Williford, pleaded guilty to Friday.
Williford, 60, also pleaded guilty to the same charge on Friday-- one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each faces up to five years in prison, $250,000 fine, and three years supervised release. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
During Williford's court appearance, it was also mentioned that Sanders and Williford took a trip to Las Vegas together using some of this money.
After Sanders' plea, his attorney spoke to reporters on his behalf.
"In truth he used some privately donated dollars in ways that he shouldn't have. Mike knew better then and he knows better now. He also knows that mistakes come with a price. He accepts responsibility for his conduct and whatever punishment comes with it," said J.R. Hobbs.
In December, the stunning allegations came to light that Sanders used Steve Hill, a longtime friend and quadriplegic who lives on disability, to pull off the illegal kickback scheme.
Hill told The Kansas City Star that Sanders gave him checks to cash from 2010 to 2013. FOX4 found Hill listed as an independent contractor on campaign finance forms for Sanders, supposedly conducting voter research. But Hill told the Star the only thing he did for Sanders was cash the checks, keep a little money and funnel most of it back to Sanders, who also chaired the Missouri Democratic Party from 2011 to 2013.
Sanders began his job as county executive in Nov. 2006 and was re-elected in 2010 and 2014. He resigned abruptly in December 2015 during his third term as county executive, saying at the time that he wanted to spend more time with family.
In addition to serving as county executive, Sanders was Jackson County prosecutor and head of the Missouri Democratic Party.
Missouri Democratic Party Press Secretary Sam Newton told FOX4 the party has no ties to Sanders anymore, but "if wrongdoing was done, there should be justice."
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