A former County Executive from Jackson County and his former chief of staff pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy to defraud political campaign funds.

Michael Sanders, a 50-year-old from Independence, and Calvin Williford, a 60-year-old from St. Joseph, each pleaded guilty in federal court in front of a judge to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to the Department of Justice, Sanders and Williford defrauded political committees that Sanders was affiliated with by converting campaign contributions for their personal use.

They misappropriated the money by directing the political committees to issue checks to certain individuals who performed little or no campaign-related work. Instead, the individuals cashed the checks and then returned a portion of the money to Sanders or Williford, who used the cash at times to pay for personal expenses.

According to the Factual Basis for Plea, some of the funds procured were used for a trip to Vegas for Sanders and Williford.

Sanders admitted to using $15,000 to $40,000 for personal use and Williford admitted to using considerably more.

Sanders was the elected County Executive for Jackson County from January 2007 until December 2015. He was also chair of the Missouri Democratic Party during the time of the crimes. Before serving as County Executive, Sanders was the elected Prosecuting Attorney for Jackson County. Now, a man who once prosecuted criminals is a felon.

Sanders' lawyer spoke on his behalf, saying that he made positive contributions in his political career but also misused privately donated campaign contributions, and apologizes for that.

“Mike knew better then and he knows better now," said JR Hobbs. "He also knows that the stakes come with a price and he accepts responsibility for his conduct and whatever punishment comes with it.”

Williford was a senior staff member for Sanders, and then later chief of staff, in the Office of the County Executive from 2007 to December 2015. Prior to then, Williford served as Sanders’s Director of Public Affairs at the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Inside the courtroom, Williford was sobbing. Outside, as his lawyer read a statement, he looked composed but contrite.

There will almost certainly be restitution paid to the donors, but the amount will be determined at sentencing.

The maximum penalty for the crime is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Kansas City Division. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Lauren Bell and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

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