Madeleine O'Neill//May 25, 2023
//May 25, 2023
The treasurer for a powerful Baltimore County political slate pleaded guilty Thursday to theft and perjury charges, admitting to stealing campaign funds from the group and from a former county councilwoman’s finance committee.
William C. McCollum, 52, entered the plea at a morning hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court. His sentencing has been scheduled for July 31.
The Maryland State Prosecutor accused McCollum in February of “systematically stealing funds” from the Baltimore County Victory Slate and the finance committee of former Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins.
The charges alleged that McCollum embezzled more than $111,000 from the “Friends of Cathy Bevins” fund from April 23, 2015, through Jan. 31, 2020, for his personal benefit. He was accused of stealing funds through direct payments to pay his personal credit card bill and by depositing checks made out to the fund or to vendors into his personal bank account.
He also transferred funds directly from the committee’s account to himself, the state prosecutor alleged.
The criminal complaint also charged that McCollum used campaign funds to travel with a romantic partner while in Puerto Rico and for flights to Palm Beach, Florida, and Iceland.
He was also accused of engaging in a similar scheme to steal more than $31,000 from the Baltimore County Victory Slate from May 27, 2015, through Dec. 14, 2018. McCollum transferred funds from the victory slate into the Friends of Cathy Bevins account, which he then transferred to himself, according to the statement of facts read in court Thursday.
He also pleaded guilty to submitting campaign finance reports, which are signed under penalty of perjury, for both entities without reporting these transactions.
McCollum’s lawyers said at Thursday’s plea hearing that he has already paid restitution.
“This is money that the defendant borrowed from friends and family to pay this back to show his remorse and start his redemptive process,” said one of the lawyers, David Irwin.
Irwin said state prosecutors plan to ask for a one-year prison sentence, while the defense will seek work release so that McCollum can begin paying back the people who lent him money.
McCollum declined to comment as he left the courtroom. Deputy State Prosecutor Sarah David also declined to comment.
In a statement, Maryland State Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard III said it is “essential to the integrity of our elections that those who abuse positions of trust on political campaigns are held accountable.”
“I’m proud of our office’s hard work in uncovering this extensive fraud and bringing the individual responsible to justice,” Howard said.
Bevins, who attended Thursday’s hearing, said she was shocked when she learned that McCollum, her close friend since 2005, had stolen from her campaign committee.
“I believe justice has been served,” she said of the plea agreement.
McCollum was named acting director of economic development for Baltimore County in August 2020. He stopped working for the county in 2021 after the county’s inspector general reported wasteful spending at the Baltimore County Agricultural Center, where he had worked since 2010.
He reportedly kept getting paid for nearly a year after he stopped working for Baltimore County by using his accrued sick leave.
Former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. established the Baltimore County Victory Slate in 2006 and uses it to finance his preferred political candidates.
A political slate is a campaign finance tool that allows multiple candidates to pool resources. Members of a slate can transfer unlimited amounts of money into the joint fund, which can then spend unlimited amounts on behalf of its members.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed a quote to attorney Andrew Graham. The statement was made by attorney David Irwin.