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Bill Beavers on the witness stand would be one for the ages

Updated: April 21, 2013 6:51AM

Federal prosecutors rested their tax case Tuesday against Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, leaving the distinct impression that there was much less to it than I had expected at the beginning.

On Tuesday, an Internal Revenue Service agent provided testimony that undercut what had always struck me as the strongest accusation against Beavers: that he had cashed 100 campaign checks written to himself totaling $226,000.

Agent Paul Ponzo told a jury and Judge James Zagel that his detailed analysis of Beavers’ financial records showed that the veteran politician had either repaid or could show expenses to arguably account for all but $30,000 of that total.

Really? Just $30,000 for which he didn’t pay taxes?

If that was the only accusation against Beavers, I doubt they would have even brought a criminal case against him.

As it is, the campaign checks he cashed account for only one of three basic schemes through which Beavers is accused of profiting.

He also is accused of failing to pay federal income taxes on $68,000 paid from his campaign fund to boost his city pension and on another $28,000 from a county office allowance that he converted to personal use.

Neither of those matters probably would have been strong enough on their own to support a federal criminal case against Beavers either.

But now that they’ve been tied together, I think his lawyers are going to have to put on a defense Wednesday that casts a little more doubt on the government’s case than they’ve been able to provide so far.

Beavers’ main defense is that the checks he cashed from the campaign funds — and the one he wrote to the pension fund — were loans that should not be counted as income for tax purposes.

Prosecutors dispute that these were loans, even in the instances where Beavers appeared to repay the money, noting he failed to disclose the transactions on his campaign disclosure reports. They say he used the money to support a gambling habit.

Beavers also makes a technical legal argument that the $68,000 check to the pension fund shouldn’t have counted as income to him until he received the corresponding distribution from his pension. And he claims it should have been tax deductible at that. Those sound like questions for the judge, not the jury.

On the county contingency allowance that he pocketed, it’s Beavers’ contention that the fault lies with county officials for failing to include the amount on his W-2 statements after he had informed them he was taking it as income.

Like I say, if it was any one of these issues standing alone, you would have expected the IRS to come after Beavers with a civil case and demand that he pay up instead of seeking an indictment.

It has been Beavers’ position since the day he was charged that federal prosecutors targeted him because he refused to cooperate in an investigation of fellow Commissioner John Daley.

Daley seems to be the only person who doesn’t at least partially believe this version of events.

But that also suggests to me that federal investigators were chasing Beavers on some other matter as well that he has never revealed.

The trial is expected to conclude Wednesday, and there was no indication in court whether Beavers intends to make good on his pretrial promise to take the witness stand and tell his version of why he was targeted.

Outside the courtroom, Beavers was ecstatic over his lawyer Aaron Goldstein’s cross-examination of the IRS agent in the belief that it had badly damaged the prosecution’s case. I told him I wouldn’t go that far.

Beavers continued to maintain that prosecutors have vastly overstated his gambling losses — pegged by Horseshoe Casino records at $477,000 total over the three years in question, 2006-2008.

He told me he even made money gambling one of those years, which I pointed out to him is not what he reported on his taxes.

He tried explaining this to me, but I couldn’t follow him, so it would be interesting to see if he fared better with a jury.

Bill Beavers on the witness stand would be one for the ages, which is why it’s probably just wishful thinking on my part.

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