Jim Dey: Ex-legislator just landed himself a harder time avoiding trial

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Feb. 12—It's time once again to dive in to another round of quick takes on the people, places and events that were being talked about over the past week:

Sam's in the slam

A federal judge in Springfield figured out how to guarantee that a former legislator charged with misspending campaign funds shows up at his "re-re-re-re-scheduled" trial on Monday.

She ordered onetime Macoupin County state Sen. Sam McCann taken into custody.

The decision by U.S. Judge Colleen Lawless followed a week of semi-comical activities that started when McCann avoided his scheduled Feb. 5 trial by checking into a Missouri hospital.

Capital News Illinois reporter Hannah Meisel wrote that "Lawless had ordered McCann to communicate with the federal probation office upon his discharge from Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis."

He failed to do so, and Lawless wanted to know why. But McCann continued to insist that he had emailed the court officials and "went to retrieve his cell phone from his Ford F-250 pickup truck parked outside the courthouse — the same make and model of a vehicle prosecutors allege McCann partially funded illegally with campaign cash — in order to show Lawless he'd also emailed the probation officer when he got home, like he'd been ordered to. But he couldn't find anything in his sent email folder."

"I don't see it, your honor," McCann said. "I know that I sent it. I know that I hit 'send' twice."

An exasperated Lawless wasn't buying McCann's claim.

"There seems to be an excuse every time. There are no more excuses, sir," Lawless said, ordering U.S. Marshals to take McCann into custody.

McCann, who is charged with misspending campaign funds on personal items, has won repeated delays in his trial by rejecting a plea agreement at the last minute, changing lawyers, deciding to act as his own lawyer and checking into the hospital to avoid a Feb. 5 start date.

On Wednesday, Lawless ordered that McCann's trial will start today.

Earlier in the week, Lawless, speaking to McCann on a Zoom call, pressed him as to when he might be available for trial.

According to Capital News, "McCann told U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless that he was 'hooked up to nitroglycerin and saline right now' and wasn't sure when he'd be discharged from Missouri Baptist Hospital and be able to make it to her courtroom."

"I have no idea," McCann said.

An angry prosecutor, Tim Bass, told the judge, "this is clearly a manufactured crisis by the defendant." Bass also read from McCann's medical record, quoting test results that showed him in normal condition.

"This is not a manufactured (crisis)," McCann said. "If this was, I would not have signed the (medical) release yesterday."

McCann, a Macoupin County resident, served as a Republican in the Illinois Senate from 2010-18. He bolted from the GOP to run for governor as a third-party candidate against incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker in the 2018 election.

He was indicted in 2021 for misspending campaign funds donated by Democratic labor unions to help defeat Rauner.

Even if the judge and prosecutor don't find it funny, it's been amusing to watch McCann's frenetic efforts to escape what appears to be inevitable.

Or is it? Stay tuned. He's as determined not to go on trial as he is slippery.

At least she showed up

While McCann's trial was stalled, another former member of the Illinois Senate went on trial in Chicago federal court on tax charges.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that "federal investigations have swirled around Annazette Collins for years."

But other misconduct on her part has become public. Prosecutors disclosed that after Collins left the legislature, she briefly worked for an insurance company.

Collins was fired after she was caught "submitting false insurance policies for people" who either did not apply for them or did not exist.

Although dismissed by American Income Life Insurance, Collins was not prosecuted for those misdeeds.

That piece of news won't enhance her credibility if and when she testifies in her own defense on the tax charges.

Collins' name is among those on the "magic list" of super-insider lobbyists favored by former House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan currently faces criminal charges in connection with the Commonwealth Edison bribery conspiracy cases. Authorities said the income-tax evasion charges against Collins stem from the same investigation.

Coach and commentator

Most people around these parts know Bruce Pearl for his exploits as a college basketball coach, most notoriously as a onetime Iowa assistant coach who dragged Illinois into an ugly NCAA recruiting investigation.

That's somewhat ironic given how Pearl later was removed from the college basketball scene as punishment for his own recruiting violations when he coached at the University of Tennessee.

Now Pearl is at Auburn, where he has a tremendous team.

But Pearl, who is Jewish, isn't limiting himself to coaching basketball; he's also engaging in political commentary by tweet.

He's made strong political statements denouncing Hamas for its Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israeli civilians. He's also dismissing Hamas' calls for a cease-fire supported by Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"Hypothetically, if 1,200 innocents in Vermont were killed and raped and tortured Oct. 7 from terrorists in Canada and more than 200 were kidnapped and held in tunnels now, what would your reaction be Senator? Would you be calling this Sanders war? Would we be calling for a cease-fire? ..."

Actually, Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist and peace-at an-price advocate, probably would. At any rate, Pearl disapproves and wants everyone to know about his disdain for Hamas and Sanders.

Last act

Actor and con artist Jussie Smollett has one more card to play, and it's virtually certain to be a loser.

The onetime cast member of "Empire" who sought public attention by claiming he was attacked in January 2019 by racist Trumpsters on a Chicago street is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to review and set aside his conviction for making the whole story up.

An Illinois appeals court recently upheld Smollett's conviction and sentence: 150 days in jail, 30 months probation and $130,160 in restitution.

Smollett's claim of victim status attracted national attention and turned Chicago on its head.

For reasons not entirely clear, Smollett sought to draw attention to himself by hiring a couple of brothers who worked on his television show to fake a racially motivated attack.

Smollett's claims fell apart under investigative scrutiny, and he was charged with felony disorderly conduct.

That led to another scandal, this one political when Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx later dropped charges against him.

Foxx's poor decision led to the appointment of a special prosecutor — Dan Webb — and a high-profile trial in which Smollett was convicted.

Vehemently proclaiming his innocence and seemingly oblivious to the facts showing otherwise, Smollett is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to bail him out. But there's no legal issue that might tempt the court to hear the case, so it's hard to imagine that it will.

Walkout approved

It's hard to imagine a governor who's more generous with his union supporters than J.B. Pritzker.

The last contract he reached with AFSCME was stunningly generous, payback, no doubt, for the lavish support the union gave Pritzker in his two races for governor.

So it's hard to believe that negotiations with state transportation workers are currently going nowhere. But they are.

That's why roughly 3,800 Illinois Department of Transportation employees represented by the Teamsters announced that its members at IDOT overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike.

The Teamsters are angry that they've been without a contract since July 1.

"Their overwhelming strike authorization sends a clear message, and we will do whatever it takes to get them the contract they deserve," Thomas Stiede, president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, said.

One of the points of contention is that Pritzker wants IDOT workers to accept a new health care plan, but the workers like the one they have.

Union officials insist the state has "plenty of money" to meet the Teamsters' demand. That's a matter of opinion subject to vigorous dispute given the state's long-term, multibillion-dollar pension debts.

But don't bet against the union when it comes to negotiating with Illinois' super-labor friendly governor.

At this time, no date has been set for when a strike would begin.

IDOT officials released a statement in response to the union action in which it said it "looks forward to continuing a successful partnership with all of its collective bargaining units now and into the future."