Kudos to the Kansas City Star for pointing out in the very first sentence of its article on the disgraced former Jackson County executive and prosecutor, Mike Sanders, that he was “once a rising star in Missouri’s Democratic Party.” The Star transcended the media habit of burying the party affiliation of a troubled politico if he or she is a Democrat.
Sanders’s former chief of staff, Calvin Williford, was also expected to plead guilty to similar charges in federal court. Both Sanders and Williford stand accused of using campaign funds in ways that were not exactly kosher, including, according to the Star, more than a dozen gambling junkets to Las Vegas.
Tony Botello, of Tony’s Kansas City, has been on the front edge of this story since the first hints of a scandal emerged with Sanders’s surprise resignation in December 2015. At the time, the media bought Sanders’s explanation for his departure.
Wrote the Star’s political analyst Dave Helling without a hint of skepticism, “Sanders — who had been concerned for years about the toll his job was taking on his family — said he began thinking about leaving public office several months ago, but his feelings crystallized following the recent death of his 73-year-old father, Bruce.”
Said Botello,”The low point of this story was a late night resignation and local pundits actually going on TV and saying what a great job the guy did as he scampered out of office like a hobo in the night.”
When he stepped down, Sanders had to have been aware of the ongoing FBI investigation. The part of the scheme that was revealed to the Star by one of the participants, Steve Hill, a friend of Sanders dating back to their days at Winnetonka High School, was pretty straightforward.
Sanders would pay Hill, a quadriplegic, from campaign bank accounts that Sanders controlled for services that Hill did not perform. Hill would keep a little of the money and kick the bulk of it back to Sanders. Hill told the Star, “I thought about it for a minute. What the hell? All right, I’m in a wheelchair, man. I’m hurting for a few bucks. And $200 or $300 would help me out.” The scheme started in 2010. Hill claims to have cashed more than $60,000 in checks made out to him.
Reportedly, Sanders had misappropriated more than $100,000 total.