Brown: Beavers’ biggest jackpot didn’t come out of a slot machine
BY MARK BROWN March 18, 2013 8:38PM
Updated: April 20, 2013 6:39AM
Cook County Commissioner William Beavers’ high-rolling ways enabled him to win dozens of slot-machine jackpots of $1,200 or more each during one three-year span, testimony at his tax trial has shown.
But the winningest bet the former 7th Ward alderman ever placed wasn’t with any casino but instead with the pension fund for city employees.
By ponying up a one-time payment of $68,763 to the Municipal Employees Annuity and Benefit Fund during his last days on the City Council in November 2006, Beavers has already been able to collect $273,825 more in pension payments than he otherwise would have been due.
That figure grows by at least $43,812 each year the 78-year-old Beavers stays alive.
In effect, Beavers was just wagering that he’d live long enough to make the money back, and he’s won that bet many times over. He recouped the $68,763 outlay in just 19 months.
The payment allowed him to more than double his aldermanic pension to $78,492 from $34,680, an option not available to regular city workers.
It’s the type of arrangement that would probably strike most Chicago taxpayers as criminal and exemplifies the frustration many have with the pension fund crises gripping nearly all levels of government in Illinois.
But sadly, the pension sweetener itself was perfectly legal and has nothing directly to do with how Beavers is alleged to have run afoul of the law.
What got Beavers in trouble was how he came up with the $68,763 payment — by dipping into his campaign funds for the money.
Federal prosecutors say that was income to Beavers that he should have reported on his federal tax returns. Beavers’ lawyers say it was just a loan that he later repaid.
The fact that Beavers didn’t disclose the “loan” at the time in his campaign disclosure reports does not help his case.
On Monday, prosecutors continued to painstakingly, methodically, even ploddingly, lay out their case against Beavers, who is accused of three different schemes to make personal use of campaign funds and his county expense allowance without paying taxes on the money.
An IRS agent testified that his analysis of banking and casino records showed a clear correlation between Beavers writing himself checks from his campaign fund and gambling at the Horseshoe Casino.
Of the 100 campaign checks Beavers wrote to himself between 2006 and 2007, 93 were cashed either the day before, the day of, or the day after he went gambling at the Horseshoe.
As I wrote in my Sunday column, I’m among many people in the news media with a soft spot for Beavers because of his outspoken ways.
But that doesn’t mean I condone any of what he’s accused of doing.
Beavers is Old School all the way. And among the methods that many of the old school politicians relied upon to augment their salaries was to treat their campaign funds and their expense allowances as their personal funds.
It’s absolutely clear from the first week of Beavers’ trial that he took the money. The only real issue at this point is whether he intended to get away with something or whether he always planned to pay back the money, as his lawyers say.
One of the more surprising aspects of the case that has emerged is that Beavers’ aides who served as his campaign treasurers routinely ignored the checks he wrote to himself when they filled out his required state campaign finance disclosure reports.
If he didn’t tell them the purpose of a withdrawal, they basically made believe it never happened for purposes of public disclosure.
To my mind, this has exposed an embarrassing gap in the oversight of the Illinois State Board of Elections, which does not routinely have access to the bank account records of the political campaign funds.
The Beavers trial also is further proof to me that we should require everyone holding public office or running for it to disclose their income tax returns. I’m not sure that would have picked up what Beavers was allegedly doing, but it would have put him on notice that he’d better play it straight with the campaign funds.
And I don’t know about you, but if there’s a public official wagering hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at the casinos, I want to know about it before it comes to this.