A former Baltimore County official accused of stealing almost $110,000 from a campaign to reelect a former Baltimore County Council member pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of felony theft scheme and one count of perjury in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
State Prosecutor Charlton Howard charged William “Chris” McCollum in February with 21 counts of felony theft, embezzlement and perjury stemming from McCollum’s role as treasurer for the Baltimore County Victory Slate and a campaign to reelect former Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat who stepped down from office in December.
The Baltimore County Victory Slate is a campaign vehicle founded by former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith that Baltimore-area Democrats like Bevins, current County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones Jr., former Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk, and current Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello have run on.
McCollum, the county’s deputy economic development director until 2021, entered guilty pleas Thursday for theft scheme and perjury for embezzling more than $140,000 from the two political committees.
He transferred about $110,000 from Friends of Cathy Bevins to his own account or used it to pay his credit card bill, according to a statement of facts read in court Thursday. He also moved about $30,000 of Baltimore County Victory Slate funds into his own accounts or used the money for American Express bills. Those transactions were not reported on campaign finance reports, according to the statement of facts.
McCollum used his access to both the slate and the Bevins campaign’s bank accounts to cash donors’ checks and vendor checks and transfer the funds into his own account, which he then used to pay off credit card bills and fund vacations to West Palm Beach, Florida; Puerto Rico; and Iceland, according to court documents.
He also charged Bevins’ campaign for a dinner at an Ohio steakhouse and withdrew funds from two ATMs in North Carolina, Howard said.
State prosecutors are asking for one year of jail time for McCollum. His sentencing is set for July 31 at 1:30 p.m.
McCollum’s attorneys said in court he made a $125,000 restitution payment Wednesday, with $27,500 paid to the Baltimore County Victory Slate and $97,500 to the Friends of Cathy Bevins.
The defense asked Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. to allow McCollum to participate in a work release program if he is incarcerated and that he be allowed to report after Labor Day.
“He’s made restitution and he’s glad to be able to put this behind him,” McCollum’s attorney Andrew Graham said after Thursday’s hearing.
McCollum declined to comment.
“I’m really pleased with the case the prosecutors put together,” Bevins said Thursday after the hearing.
The Morning Sun
Because she is no longer in office, Bevins said she plans to donate the restitution money to nonprofits.
“It was pretty shocking to learn this was all happening under my nose,” Bevins said.
She said learning a “close friend” like McCollum was cheating her campaign was worse than if it had been a stranger.
Campaign finance records still listed McCollum as the Baltimore County Victory Slate treasurer as of Thursday afternoon.
[ Former Baltimore County employee charged with embezzlement, theft, perjury in campaign finance case ]
McCollum was at the center of controversy that started in 2021 when Inspector General Kelly Madigan found that the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park in Cockeysville had squandered $1 million while he was the center’s director.
Baltimore County was criticized the following year for allowing McCollum to remain on its payroll for months after he officially resigned due to an unusual arrangement that allowed him to go on medical leave without documentation and continue drawing his $137,000 salary.
That arrangement, which allowed McCollum to pad his service time and boost his pension after surpassing the 20-year mark as a county employee and department head, ended shortly after The Baltimore Sun reported its existence.