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Crime & Justiceby Mark Reutter9:13 amJul 31, 20230

Baltimore County insider Chris McCollum returns to court for sentencing

He faces as much as a year in jail for stealing $140,000 in campaign funds. He’s also been at the center of other Baltimore County scandals.

Above: Chris McCollum while serving as director of the Baltimore County Ag Center. (Facebook)

William Christopher “Chris” McCollum, the former Olszewski administration official who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $140,000 in campaign funds, is due back in Baltimore County Circuit Court today for sentencing.

An operative once on intimate terms with top county politicians, McCollum faces jail time when he appears before Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. this afternoon after pleading guilty to felony theft and perjury in May.

UPDATE: Judge sentences Chris McCollum to six months, saying it will help deter other campaign finance crimes (7/31/23)

Deputy State Prosecutor Sarah R. David plans to ask that McCollum be sentenced to five years incarnation, with all but one year suspended.

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors said, “The state believes that a year of incarceration is appropriate given the long-term, systematic pattern of fraudulent acts and abuse of trust that McCollum engaged in while committing these crimes.”

His actions are offset, prosecutors said, by his heretofore clean criminal record and his willingness to take responsibility for his conduct.

David Irwin, one of McCollum’s two high-powered lawyers from Kramon & Graham, has called on the judge to consider work release as part of any sentence that includes jail time.

Irwin told Cahill that McCollum was currently hard at work to pay off the $125,000 he had borrowed from family and friends to pay restitution to the two campaigns he stole from.

In his plea deal, McCollum admitted to pocketing $110,000 “for his personal enrichment” from the campaign account of former Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D, Middle River) and over $31,000 from a candidate slate controlled by former Baltimore County Executive John T. “Jim” Smith Jr.

McCollum served as both the treasurer of Friends of Cathy Bevins and the Baltimore County Victory Slate, filing dozens of false reports with the State Board of Elections that concealed his schemes to funnel money to phony LLCs he concocted and to pay off personal credit card debts.

Irwin said McCollum has returned $97,500 to the Bevins campaign and $27,500 to Smith’s Victory Slate “to show his remorse and start his redemptive process.”

Rise Before the Fall

Once a low-level county employee, McCollum was appointed the director of the Ag Center on Shawan Road in 2010 by then-County Executive Smith.

In 2015, McCollum was made treasurer of Smith’s Victory Slate, which transferred money to favored Democratic candidates and famously (and illegally) lent $100,000 to Catherine Pugh in her 2016 Democratic primary win as Baltimore mayor. (Smith was rewarded with a $175,000-a-year job as Pugh’s strategic advisor before he bailed out in 2019 as the “Healthy Holly” scandal led to Pugh’s resignation and later incarceration.)

Promoted to deputy director of the county’s economic development department by incoming County Executive Johnny Olszewski, McCollum came to public attention in 2021 through two reports by County Inspector General Kelly Madigan.

The reports, exposing wasteful programs and unauthorized spending at the Ag Center under McCollum, spawned a ferocious blowback by then-councilwoman Bevins.

At a May 2021 public hearing, Bevins berated Madigan, saying she had besmirched McCollum’s reputation and didn’t understand “the policies and procedures that happen here.”

Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (left) questions IG Kelly Madigan (right) at a hearing on Madigan's budget. (Webex)

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins chastises IG Kelly Madigan (right) about her report on the Ag Center’s financial irregularities. (Webex)

This was followed by Olszewski’s attempt to curb Madigan’s powers to investigate government corruption. Olszewski withdrew the legislation only after a public outcry.

Meanwhile, The Brew had disclosed many financial irregularities in reports that McCullom had submitted to the State Elections Board – information that formed the basis of a number of the state prosecutor’s charges.

Jim Smith’s Victory Slate is fraught with financial irregularities (5/19/21)

State prosecutor has opened an investigation into Jim Smith’s Victory Slate (6//1/21)

McCollum resigned from his deputy director’s position on July 2, 2021 only to secretly remain on the county’s payroll – receiving full pay and health benefits – under an agreement signed by Olszewski’s chief administrative officer, Stacy L. Rodgers.

After the deal was revealed in the press in April 2022, the payments stopped.

And just prior to that, Bevins announced that she wouldn’t be running for a fourth term as county councilwoman.

The Olszewski administration’s 2021 deal with Chris McCollum was as generous as it was unlawful (5/30/23)

“Absolutely no knowledge”

After attending McCollum’s plea hearing in May, Bevins said she and McCollum had been close friends for years, and that he had betrayed her trust by stealing from her campaign.

She told The Brew that she had “absolutely no knowledge” that he had diverted money from her campaign over a period of five years. She said she was “very happy with the case made by the prosecutor.”

Jim Smith did not attend the May hearing and has not make any public comment about McCollum or the embezzlement from his Victory Slate.

Turning 53 next month, McCollum reports holding partial interest in a family farm near Greensboro, N.C., and lists as his legal address the Lutherville home of a former Ag Center employee whose unauthorized use of P-cards was cited in the 2021 investigation by Inspector General Madigan.

•To reach this reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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