Former Baltimore County economic development official and longtime Democratic politico William “Chris” McCollum has been charged with 21 counts of felony theft scheme, embezzlement and perjury for pocketing money from a former county councilwoman’s campaign and a slate committee that supports the campaigns of Baltimore-area Democrats.
McCollum has been charged with depositing funds from two campaign accounts, for which he served as treasurer, into his personal bank account and using campaign funds to pay personal credit card bills over roughly six years, according to the Office of the State Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard, which announced the charges Thursday.
McCollum embezzled nearly $111,015 from former County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins’ campaign “for his personal use and benefit” between April 2015 and Jan. 31, 2020, writing checks to fake campaign vendors, depositing donations into his personal bank account and electronically transferring himself campaign money, according to the charges.
McCollum, who resigned as Baltimore County’s deputy director of economic development in July 2021, declined to comment.
“Mr. McCollum has been fully cooperative with the Office of the State Prosecutor,” said David Irwin, an attorney at Kramon & Graham who represents McCollum.
“And we’re hoping that everything works out,” he added.
Prosecutors charge McCollum wrote checks to “several purported campaign vendors” as Bevins’ treasurer, then deposited the checks — a total $13,425 — into his own account. For example, charging documents say, McCollum pocketed a $3,750 check made out to “PF LLC” in April 2015.
Some donations never made it to candidates at all, according to charging documents. Between July 2015 and June 2018, prosecutors say, McCollum deposited checks totaling $28,400, made payable to the “Friends of Cathy Bevins” campaign account at Bank of America, directly into his personal bank account.
McCollum also electronically transferred $5,000 from Bevins’ coffers to his bank account in early 2020, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say McCollum also embezzled almost $2,640 from Bevins between September 2014 through July 2019 for personal travel expenses. He charged the campaign for airfare to Iceland in November 2016, Puerto Rico in March 2019 and Florida in July 2019, they say, and withdrew campaign dollars through ATMs in Ohio and North Carolina — prohibited by Maryland election laws — for meals and other expenses.
Bevins told prosecutors she wasn’t aware of the transactions, which were either left out of campaign finance disclosures or misrepresented, according to charging documents. Prosecutors say some of Bevins’ 2019 campaign finance reports list the $540 Puerto Rico airfare expense as “staff travel,” and include a $496.98 expense for “utilities-internet access” that prosecutors say paid for McCollum’s airline tickets to West Palm Beach, Florida.
In a statement, Bevins, who last year decided not to run for a fourth council term, said she “was shocked and saddened to learn about the embezzlement.”
“This is a complete betrayal of trust placed in him by me and by my donors,” Bevins wrote.
Prosecutors say McCollum similarly embezzled campaign dollars from the Baltimore County Victory Slate, which may pool and transfer unlimited campaign dollars among select Baltimore-area Democrats who join the slate. Former County Executive Jim Smith propped up the political committee in 2006 and McCollum has served as its treasurer since 2015, according to charging documents.
From May 2015 through December 2018, McCollum took almost $31,270 from the slate by depositing checks from individual donors as well as checks made payable by the slate to nonexistent campaign vendors, according to the charges. McCollum used that money to pay for purchases on his American Express credit card, according to prosecutors.
Baltimore Brew first reported legal issues involving the Victory Slate when the committee was fined for loaning former Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh $100,000 in the 2016 primary elections. The state prosecutor fined the committee $3,000 for the loan, which was illegal because Pugh wasn’t a member of the slate.
The prosecutors’ office opened its investigation of the slate some time before June 2021, the Brew reported.
McCollum also faces perjury charges for failing to disclose the expenditures on Bevins’ and Victory Slate campaign finance forms he signed and filed with the State Board of Elections between 2018 and 2021, and an amended 2016 disclosure, according to charging documents.
Members of the slate have included County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and his father, former county councilman John Olszewski Sr., Bevins, council Chair Julian Jones, state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, according to online campaign finance records.
Olszewski received $2,000 from the Victory Slate in May 2019, state campaign disclosures show.
In a statement, county spokeswoman Erica Palmisano said Olszewski’s administration “was not aware of these allegations” during McCollum’s employment with Baltimore County.
“These charges are serious and deeply concerning and we support every effort to ensure justice is served,” Palmisano wrote.
McCollum, 52, began his career in county government almost two decades ago as a revitalization specialist in the Department of Economic and Workforce Development. Eight years later, he was named executive director of the then-new Baltimore County Agriculture Center, and also briefly served as the acting director of county economic development.
In that time, McCollum became a familiar figure in local Democratic circles, and grew close to Bevins and the Olszewski family.
During a May 2021 budget hearing, Bevins went to bat for McCollum against county Inspector General Kelly Madigan, who had found wasteful spending and unauthorized purchases for farm equipment at the Cockeysville agriculture center while McCollum was its director.
In her critique of Madigan as “a bully,” Bevins said at the time that she may have taken the IG’s treatment of McCollum “more personal” because of her friendship with McCollum.
Weeks later, McCollum left his economic development post.
Baltimore County paid McCollum unused sick leave for almost a year after he resigned in order to allow McCollum to qualify for a higher pension.
McCollum is scheduled to enter his initial appearance March 13, according to online court records.
Baltimore Banner reporter Emily Sullivan contributed to this article.