March 22, 2013
Just after Bill Beavers left the federal courtroom guilty on all counts — but before he'd go downstairs to play the defiant old-school Chicago pol for the TV cameras — he gave me a quiet shrug.
We were standing in the corridor Thursday afternoon, just the blunt old politician and the reporter who covered his first aldermanic campaign in the South Chicago neighborhood 30 years ago.
You going to talk?
"I'm talking to you now, man," he told me. "What do you want to know?"
What's it like?
"It's like I lost," he said. "I really thought I was going to beat it."
He waved that one off with a laugh. Who beats a criminal tax fraud case in federal court?
"Well, I thought I'd get me a hung jury," he said, and I figured he meant he might get a break from the African-American women on the jury. "At least for a while I thought that."
He laughed deep down, that characteristic heh-heh-heh, and moved on, ready to become the TV Bill Beavers again.
"Well, I'll see you downstairs."
Criminal tax cases in federal court aren't about style or defiance or bluster or lawyers telling jokes to the jury. They're about the numbers. Beavers gambled hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it from his campaign fund. The jury found he wasn't lending himself the money, he was just taking it and blowing it.
"This was really a very simple case," said acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro, who has spent decades hunting organized crime and political corruption in Illinois. "Either these were loans or they weren't. And I think this jury overwhelmingly said, those weren't loans, he took that money. He spent that money. That was income."
There was a small smile on his face, just the hint of it, and he squeezed it back. But he was clearly satisfied.
The histories will show that Beavers made his public comments in the lobby of the federal building at 219 S. Dearborn St. But it's not just a building. It's more than that. It's the place that gives Chicago politicians nightmares, the Keyser Soze of modern skyscrapers, the place they simply call "219."
Beavers came down, sauntered over to the microphones and gave Chicago what it expected from him: a politician who wasn't about to let his lips tremble and pucker, like so many others in that same space. I've seen fake tough guys crack and start blubbering there. But Beavers isn't a fake tough guy.
He'd decided long ago, he said, that he'd do time rather than talk to federal authorities about political corruption. Since his indictment last year, he's told the story about the FBI asking him to wear a wire on fellow Cook County Commissioner John Daley, brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
"There's no question about it," Beavers said Thursday. "Have you ever seen the IRS come looking for you for $30,000 and they come with the FBI? ... Even Ray Charles could see that. They thought I was a punk."
But Beavers isn't a Daley. He doesn't have that kind of political infrastructure, no hive of workers to protect him the way the queen bee is always protected at City Hall.
You've seen even powerful mayors crack at the smallest of things, chatty one minute, seething the next. One City Hall queen bee of years ago, suffering as his drones were picked off by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office, was reduced to frequent emotional outbursts and public tears.
Beavers didn't cry. He laughed. The former cop is all about the street, all about the bluff, all about bravado, and there was no way in hell he was going to shed a tear or let his lips twitch.
"You take a fight and if you win, you win, and if you lose, you lose," he said. "What have I got to lose? I'm 78 years old. I've been paying taxes for 60 years. You're going to pay taxes and you're going to die. Those are two things you're going to do. What can the judge do to me?"
He can put you in prison for nine years, a reporter said.
"No, he can't put me in here for nine years because I'm not going to live that long," Beavers said, laughing.
Some reporters were disappointed that he didn't testify in his own defense, but did they really expect him to take the stand? There's no percentage in it. The only thing he could do is what he did: Hope for a hung jury. And he didn't get it.
Since I've known him for years, I know when he's having fun. And he had fun in the lobby, playing the cool basso profundo, watching the reporters get all twitchy when he mentioned the magic word "Daley."
A few of them know him too, and understand the show, the defeated Beavers needing to win back some self-respect.
"Listen, I ain't got no regrets at all, you understand? I'll take my lumps, OK? Like I told them when they came and asked me about John Daley. I'm not a stool pigeon or will be. I'll take my lumps."
One of the legal reporters there, perhaps thrilled to be so close to such obvious machismo, talked to Beavers as if they were in some kind of old cop show.
"Did someone drop a dime on you?" the reporter asked.
"Man," Beavers said, laughing and ridiculing the guy. "Drop a dime? Don't bring me that s---! Come on!"
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC