Convicted William Beavers says he was unfairly prosecuted
BY KIM JANSSEN AND LISA DONOVAN Staff Reporters March 21, 2013 2:17PM
Updated: April 23, 2013 2:09PM
The Hog looks like he’s heading for the pen.
That’s the likely fate of Cook County Commissioner William Beavers after a jury took less than two hours Thursday to find him guilty of being a tax cheat.
But the self-proclaimed “hog with the big nuts” went down swinging — repeating his claim that he’d been unfairly prosecuted by the feds for refusing to wear a wire against fellow Commissioner John Daley.
“Even Ray Charles could see that,” the 78-year-old told reporters minutes after he was convicted on four felony counts. “They thought I was a punk.”
Jurors quickly left the courthouse without speaking, although one juror who asked his name not be used later told the Sun-Times, “it was a heart-tugging decision.” Despite that, the jury’s extremely short deliberation at the end of a week-long trial seemed itself to be a damning comment on Beavers’ defense.
Accused of using his political campaign accounts from 2006 until 2008 as a “slush fund” to swell his pension and for losing gambling sprees at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, then failing to pay taxes on those withdrawals, the sharp-suited, baritone-voiced former alderman claimed he’d merely loaned himself the money.
He blamed the county for failing to report $30,000 in expense checks that he took as income.
But prosecutor Carrie Hamilton successfully ridiculed those arguments, saying Beavers was an experienced politician who knew the rules but deliberately “kept everyone in the dark,” including the IRS, the Illinois Board of Elections and his own campaign staff.
The commissioner, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Getter said, used the campaign funds as “a personal ATM” and never intended to repay all the cash he withdrew. “He put back [only] what he needed to put back to cover his tracks,” Getter said.
Under state law, Beavers’ conviction means he will automatically lose his seat on the County Board. His attorneys — unhappy at a series of rulings Judge James Zagel made — said he will appeal.
And Beavers himself blasted Zagel, saying the judge who ultimately will sentence him was “really unfair.” Beavers told reporters he did not testify because Zagel had it in for him.
“Look, if I had taken the stand the judge wasn’t going to let me do what I wanted to do,” Beavers said.
“The judge was really unfair. That’s why I didn’t take the stand because he was never going to let me tell what I wanted to tell.”
Still, Beavers, who faces up to three years behind bars on each of the four counts he was convicted on, as well as fines of up to $1 million, seemed resigned to his fate.
“Listen man, you take a fight — you fight, and if you win, you win. If you lose you lose. What have I got to lose? I’m 78 years old,” he said in the courthouse lobby, adding with a smile: “What can the judge do to me?”
Though his own attorney, Sam Adam Jr., acknowledged during closing arguments that Beavers “may have a gambling problem,” Beavers denied it, claiming that casino records showing he lost nearly $500,000 in three years were incorrectly calculated.
“I haven’t been to a boat in a year. Does that sound like a gambling problem?” the former Chicago cop said.
He insisted he had neither doubts about his decision not to testify, nor his alleged refusal to cooperate with the feds.
“I ain’t got no regrets at all,” he said, laughing. “I’m not a stool pigeon, never will be.
“I don’t know nothing about nobody.”
Shortly after Beavers left the court building — to grab a steak at Gibson’s, he said — acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro offered a simpler account of what the case was about.
“The message that was sent here was that Bill Beavers took a lot of money people gave him to run his campaigns and he stuck it in his pocket, and a lot of it, he gambled,” Shapiro said. “For that, at least, he should have paid his taxes, and he didn’t.”
Noting that Illinois’ campaign spending laws were “very loose,” he added, “It’s important that politicians understand that if they take advantage of the system that they risk something like this happening to them.”