Ex-Bear Chris Zorich charged with failing to file income tax returns
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2013 12:26PM
Updated: April 9, 2013 11:39AM
In an era when star athletes are often seen as overpaid egotists, former Chicago Bear Chris Zorich had built a reputation as an unusually caring athlete.
Known for his work to help the needy through his Chris Zorich Foundation every bit as much as for the six seasons he played defensive tackle for the Bears, he was an early supporter of Barack Obama, even appearing next to the future president as he launched his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2003.
But his glowing character references took a hit last year when he agreed to pay back his charity nearly $350,000 in missing funds.
And now the 43-year-old faces a further humiliation — a potential federal prison term for failing to file taxes for four years.
Charged Thursday, the former All-American intends to plead guilty, his attorney Matt Lydon said.
Prosecutors say Zorich, who played for the Bears from 1991-96 and for a year following that with the Washington Redskins, didn’t file his taxes from 2006 through 2009 — a period during which he made more than $1 million. The charges are punishable by up to a year behind bars and $400,000 in fines, plus the unpaid taxes.
Zorich’s now defunct charity initially attracted a lot of positive media attention with its annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaways. But the charity has been under increased scrutiny since it failed an annual report with the state in 2002. Banned from continuing to solicit or hold funds by the Illinois Attorney General in 2004, it nonetheless continued to pay Zorich through 2009, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Last year the charity was closed, and Zorich agreed in Cook County Circuit Court to repay unaccounted funds that were intended for scholarships to Notre Dame — the school he helped win its last national championship in 1988. So far, he’s paid back $15,000 of the nearly $350,000 that was missing, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
During the years Zorich failed to file taxes, he also was still being paid by the Bears, by Notre Dame, where he’d worked following his retirement, and by a law firm where he also took a job, the feds say.
Lydon said that Zorich paid withholding tax on some of that income. He is now working as an athletic administrator at St. Sabina Academy on the South Side, Lydon said. Zorich had some “personal problems and issues” that lead to his tax problems but is working to pay back what he owes, Lydon added.
“He hopes to get on with his life,” the attorney said.
Also charged with failing to file tax returns Thursday was Stephen R. Pamon, 61, of Elk Grove Village, a Cook County sheriff’s deputy who also officiated college basketball, football, and baseball games, as well as Arena Football League games.