Fourteen months after she learned of the theft and deception, Cathy Bevins said she remains in disbelief about the actions of the man she once considered her closest friend.

When Bevins met William “Chris” McCollum in 2004, she said, she was attracted to his wit, humor and Southern accent. Her family adored him. They traveled together, and he knew all her secrets.

Bevins went on to serve three terms on the Baltimore County Council and retired in 2022. McCollum acted as the treasurer of her campaign committee.

Between 2015 and 2020, McCollum stole more than $111,000 from Friends of Cathy Bevins. He also embezzled over $31,000 between 2015 and 2019 from Baltimore County Victory Slate, which can pool and transfer donations to select candidates.

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The Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor filed charges earlier this year against McCollum, a longtime Democratic politico. He pleaded guilty on May 25 to theft and perjury and paid $125,000 in agreed-upon restitution.

“The level of deceit,” Bevins said at his sentencing on Monday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, “is sickening to me.”

But Bevins said she’s forgiven McCollum. She said she does not forget what he did, though, and will not let him back into her life.

Stating that it was important to send a message to deter future treasurers of campaign committees from engaging in similar criminal activity, Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. sentenced McCollum, 52, of Lutherville-Timonium, to serve six months in jail — plus three years’ probation.

“I am struck by the level of betrayal and the lack of gratitude this crime shows,” said Cahill, who added that McCollum needed to experience the humility of cell doors closing behind him.

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McCollum started working for Baltimore County in 2002. He was appointed executive director of the Baltimore County Agricultural Center in 2010 and most recently served as deputy director of economic development for Baltimore County.

In the past, McCollum was a longtime Democratic fundraiser who pumped money into Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s bids for county executive in 2018 and 2022. Meanwhile, Baltimore County Victory Slate was fined for illegally loaning $100,000 to the campaign of disgraced former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in the final days of the 2016 Democratic primary, which she narrowly won.

Deputy State Prosecutor Sarah David asked the judge to hand down a sentence of one year incarceration — plus three years’ probation.

David said McCollum stole money, lied to those closest to him and undermined election integrity in Baltimore County. She said it was not a crime of opportunity.

“This is a crime of complexity,” David said. “This crime took work.”

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She said it was important for the criminal justice system to send a message in these cases.

But David Irwin and Andrew Graham, McCollum’s attorneys, asked the judge to impose a sentence that did not include incarceration.

Irwin spoke about their client’s childhood, which included the death of his mother when he was 5.

Court documents include the following background:

When McCollum was 8 or 9, his father remarried. But McCollum had a “very strained relationship” with his stepmother and left home at 18. He later attended a local community college and took classes at Bluefield University in Virginia.

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McCollum married his childhood sweetheart, Martha. But they divorced after 23 years in 2015. His father died in 2016.

He was trying to help his generations-old family farm in North Carolina, which has shrunk during “financially hard times” from about 450 acres to 250 acres.

Two character witnesses, Thomas Albright and Jeffrey Budnitz, spoke about McCollum’s work to help feed people during the COVID-19 pandemic but did not make excuses for the crime or minimize his actions.

Graham said their client cooperated and paid back the money. McCollum has lost his job, reputation and money, he said, and is embarrassed and humiliated.

“He’s a good person,” said Graham, who argued that incarceration would be counterproductive and noted that probation is not freedom. “He’s not beyond being rehabilitated.”

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McCollum told the judge that he took “100% responsibility” for his actions and described them as “stunningly irrational.”

“I think I have something positive to give,” McCollum said. “I can pay my debt to society and work to rebuild from there.”

In a statement, State Prosecutor Charlton Howard III said, “I’m proud of our office’s efforts to build a strong case and uncover this fraud. We appreciate the Court’s thoughtfulness in sentencing and hope it dissuades others who would seek to undermine Maryland’s election integrity for personal gain.”

McCollum must report on Sept. 18 to begin serving his sentence.

dylan.segelbaum@thebaltimorebanner.com

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