A Baltimore County political operative, the subject of a dozen Brew investigative stories, was charged today with embezzling over $140,000 from two campaign accounts he served as treasurer.
William Christopher “Chris” McCollum, 52, stole funds from the Baltimore County Victory Slate, controlled by former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., and Friends of Cathy Bevins, the campaign arm of former Middle River Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, according to a criminal information filed by State Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard III.
McCollum served as treasurer of both entities while holding high-level positions in Baltimore County government – first as director of the Ag Center and later as acting director of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development.
McCollum was the central figure in two 2021 reports (here and here) on wasteful spending – including the purchase of expensive women’s boots – at the Ag Center by Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan.
The reports were met with ferocious blowback from Bevins and Council Chairman Julian Jones, who accused Madigan of unfair targeting, and a subsequent attempt by County Executive Johnny Olszewski to rein in Madigan’s powers to investigate government corruption.
McCollum resigned from the county in June 2021 after The Brew disclosed financial irregularities in the reports he submitted to the State Board of Elections on behalf of Smith’s Victory Slate.
The Brew reported that Prosecutor Howard was looking into the filed reports, whose omissions and deceptions formed the basis of some of today’s charges.
Despite serious questions raised about his activities, the Olszewski administration did not completely cut its ties to the political insider.
It was later revealed that McCollum was able to collect his county salary – and county health benefits – for another 10 months by tapping into “accrued sick pay” approved by Olszewski’s office.
21 Criminal Counts
Today’s filing in Baltimore County Circuit Court charges McCollum with 21 counts of felony theft, embezzlement and perjury, saying he systematically stole donors’ funds raised by the two committees.
Between April 2015 and January 2020, he embezzled $111,014.89 from Friends of Cathy Bevins, the charging document says.
He did this several ways: by diverting checks from donors to his personal bank account, by using the committee’s American Express account to pay his personal Amex charges and by writing out checks to phantom vendors that he cashed, the filing says.
Bevins said she was “shocked and saddened” to learn about the allegations.
He is also accused of using campaign funds to travel to North Carolina, Florida and Iceland and to take a trip with “a romantic partner” to Puerto Rico.
As Bevins’ campaign treasurer, he did not disclose these expenditures on the reports he filed with the State Board of Elections, which he signed under the penalties of perjury, Howard says.
Bevins, who did not run for reelection, today released a statement saying she “was shocked and saddened” to learn about the alleged embezzlement by her treasurer, who doubled as her close companion and occasional travel mate.
The activities described by the state prosecutor represent “a complete betrayal of trust placed in him by me and by my donors,” Bevins said.
Same Alleged Pattern
McCollum is accused of engaging in the same illegal schemes as treasurer of the Baltimore County Victory Slate.
That entity was set up by Jim Smith in 2006 as a vehicle to bankroll Democratic Party incumbents and candidates running for public office in and around Baltimore County.
McCollum is accused of embezzling more than $31,000, mostly by depositing checks made out to the slate in his personal bank account. He also allegedly cashed checks he wrote out to imaginary vendors like “PL LLC” and “NGP.”
Currently inactive, the Victory Slate reported spending more than $760,000 on its preferred candidates – plus another $400,000 on polling, campaign mailings and opposition research, much of the latter focused on former State Senator Jim Brochin, who narrowly lost to Olszewski in the 2018 county executive primary.
In addition to injecting cash into the treasuries of Bevins and Julian Jones, the slate transferred money into the campaigns of locally prominent figures.
They include Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne. A. Jones, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Schellenberger, State Senators Delores Kelley and Katherine Klausmeier, and Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello.
“Inactive” members of the slate include County Executive Olszewski, his father, former councilman turned lobbyist John Olszewski Sr. and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
$100,000 Loan to Pugh
in 2016, Jim Smith used the slate to make a last-minute $100,000 loan to Catherine Pugh – a loan was credited with helping Pugh eke out a victory over Sheila Dixon in the Baltimore City Democratic mayoral primary.
Pugh rewarded Smith with a $176,000-a-year City Hall job as chief of strategic alliances, while the slate itself was fined $3,000 for loaning money to a non-member.
Today’s charging document does not cite Smith’s relationship with McCollum nor say why – to this day – McCollum remains the Victory Slate’s treasurer.
The charging document does not say why – to this day – McCollum remains treasurer of the Victory Slate.
And despite years of news reports about McCollum, the charging document does not elaborate on its blanket statement that “the members of the slate” – such as House Speaker Jones, State’s Attorney Schellenberger and Jim Smith – “did not have any knowledge of [his] deposits” and “did not approve these deposits.”
McCollum is being represented by David Irwin and Andrew Jay Graham of Kramon & Graham.
Irwin issued a statement this afternoon saying, “We’ve been fully cooperative throughout the state prosecutor’s investigation. We hope this will all work out.”