Cook County Commissioner William Beavers was convicted today on tax-evasion charges at the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago.
A jury convicted Beavers on one count of corruptly impeding the Internal Revenue Service and three counts of filing a false federal income tax return for 2006, 2007 and 2008.
A defiant Beavers continued to insist his innocence as he left the courthouse in the Loop and continued to claim he was put on trial only because he would not wear a wire for federal investigators.
"Ray Charles could see that," Beavers joked. "They thought I was a punk."
"There's no law against what I did," he added. "There's no law against gambling with campaign funds."
Beavers has been on trial since last week on charges he failed to pay taxes on at least $30,000 he took from his campaign funds and used to bet on slot machines at the Horseshoe Casino. He is also charged with failing to report to the IRS a $68,000 campaign check he deposited into his city pension as well as $1,200-a-month stipends he received for about two years as a county commissioner.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who is presiding over the trial, issued a gag order after a member of the defense team made fiery comments outside court last week after the 50-person jury pool didn't include any African-American men. Beavers is black. One African-American woman was seated on the 12-member jury.
Beavers, known for his bravado and deep baritone voice, had long vowed to testify in his own defense but balked at taking the witness stand on Wednesday. That prevented the defense from raising with jurors a central complaint of Beavers since he was charged more than a year ago – that FBI agents had unfairly targeted him after he refused to work undercover for them.
The judge also had ruled that Beavers would have to take the stand to bring out evidence that he amended his tax returns, albeit after learning of the federal investigation.
The trial has featured juicy details about Beavers' rapacious gambling habit, right down to the minutes he clocked in and out of the Hammond riverboat.
Beavers gambled so much that he earned membership in the casino’s most exclusive VIP club, bringing him free steak dinners, show tickets, access to exclusive areas and more. But that also proved a bonanza for prosecutors because his VIP player’s card electronically tracked all his betting. According to the evidence, he lost a combined $477,000 playing slots over the three key years.
In a rousing closing argument Thursday, Beavers’ attorney, Sam Adam Jr., admitted that the veteran politician might have a gambling problem.
“Commissioner Beavers may have gotten in over his head. But it had nothing to do with the IRS,” said Adam, his voice dropping to a whisper. “ … Send that 78-year-old man home.”
Adam focused mostly on his main defense: that Beavers considered the money he took from his campaign funds to be loans that he planned to pay back and didn’t owe taxes on as a result.
Prosecutors stuck to their typically sober script as they cast Beavers as a seasoned, capable politician who knew how to report additional income to the IRS and failed to do so in order to avoid paying the taxes. Beavers, in fact, reported campaign cash in his 2005 return that he had spent on himself, only to get socked with a $27,000 tax bill and a three-year installment payment plan to pay it back, Assistant U.S. Atty. Matthew Getter told the jury.
Over the next three years, Beavers used his campaign funds like an “ATM” without leaving a paper trail for his own campaign staff, the State Board of Elections or the IRS, Getter said.
“Sometimes he put money back in. Sometimes he didn’t,” Getter said in reference to Beavers’ campaign funds. “It was all up to him. … For money to be a loan, there has to be an actual obligation (to pay it back).”Copyright © 2015, RedEye