By MICHAEL TARM
FILE – In this March 2, 2012 file photo, Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, left, speaks to reporters, as his attorney Sam Adam Jr. listens, after Beavers’ arraignment on federal tax-evasion charges in Chicago. On Thursday, March 21, 2013, a jury convicted Beavers on four counts of tax evasion for not declaring campaign cash he spent on gambling as income. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
CHICAGO (AP) — An influential Chicago Democrat who famously compared himself to a virile hog was convicted Thursday after less than two hours of jury deliberations on charges of tax evasion for not declaring campaign cash he gambled away on slot machines as income.
The tough-talking, rhetorically gifted William Beavers — a 78-year-old Cook County commissioner who once bragged about his influence by calling himself a “hog with big nuts” — slumped in his courtroom chair after the verdict. His dejected-looking lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., shook his hand and said, “I’m sorry.”
But post-verdict, standing in the federal courthouse lobby surrounded by TV cameras, the elected commissioner and former Chicago alderman regained his trademark swagger — smiling and sounding defiant.
“I’m not backing down from nothing — from him,” he said about Judge James Zagel, whom Beavers accused of treating him unfairly at trial. He added he would appeal the verdict: guilty on all four counts — one for obstructing the IRS and three for filings false returns.
Beavers lost $500,000 at Indiana’s Horseshoe Casino, sometimes writing himself one $2,000 campaign check after another on daylong gambling binges, prosecutors said. His gambling provided a motive for why he needed a steady, untaxed flow of cash.
Beavers told reporters Thursday that those figures were misleading and showed that government attorneys didn’t have a gambler’s knack for calculating winnings and losses. Insisted the former policeman and one-time alderman, “I never lost a dime.”
Each count carries a maximum three-year prison term. No sentencing date was set.
After the verdict, Beavers also repeated a claim he’s made for months that authorities charged him in retaliation for his refusal in 2009 to wear a wire against Commissioner John Daley, the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
“There’s no question about it,” he said Thursday. “They thought I was a punk. … (But) I’m not a stool pigeon and never will be.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro called Beavers’ allegation “ridiculous.”
“We approach hundreds of people, maybe thousands … to cooperate with us,” he said shortly after Beavers talked with the media. “We don’t then turn around and prosecute them (because they don’t cooperate).”
During closing arguments earlier Thursday, prosecutor Carrie Hamilton told jurors that gambling with campaign funds isn’t, in itself, illegal, and that’s not why Beavers was on trial. Not declaring campaign money used for personal benefit as income is illegal.
“The defendant is not on trial because he used his campaign fund as a personal slush fund,” she said. “He is on trial because he used his campaign fund as a slush fund and didn’t report it. … He decided the rules shouldn’t apply to him.”
Adam drew objections from prosecutors and an admonition from the judge during his closing arguments when he suggested the government had manipulated testimony about his client.
“They are trying to bamboozle you,” he boomed to the jury. Zagel later told him to avoid personal attacks.
Adam also struck at the credibility of an IRS agent who testified for the government and, at one point on the stand, had conceded that he wasn’t adept in all forms of mathematics.
“They got the one IRS agent who can’t add and subtract,” he said.
Beavers’ lawyers argued this was a case of no harm, no foul: That Beavers regarded the money from his campaign as non-taxable loans and paid most of it back. He only did so after learning in 2009 he was under investigation.
Hamilton, however, told jurors there were no records to support that claim, noting Beavers otherwise kept meticulous records during campaign business to ensure he was reimbursed — even when he purchased $1.09-worth of food at McDonald’s, Hamilton said.
“He doesn’t need a contract (to indicate the campaign money was a loan) — he could have just written on a napkin: I.O.U.,” she told jurors. “When the campaign owed him something, the records are there. When he claims he’s obliged to pay something — no record.”
Beavers took steps to conceal his use of campaign money at casinos, once falsely indicating on a check stub that money was used to print campaign signs, prosecutors said.
The charges included the accusation that Beavers failed to declare more than $68,000 in campaign money he put in a city fund to nearly double his monthly alderman’s pension from $2,900 to $6,500 a month.