A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, an unapologetically old school Chicago Democrat, to six months in prison and nearly $41,000 in fines and restitution for failing to pay income taxes on money he took from campaign accounts and County Board slush funds.
Beavers, 78, was found guilty by a federal jury in March on four counts of lying to the IRS. But speaking to reporters moments after Judge James Zagel handed down the sentence, the outspoken former ward boss remained as saucy and unremorseful as ever.
“I do any and everything I wanna do, okay?” Beavers told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing. “And like I said, I ain’t beggin’ for nothing. I don’t beg my woman, so you know I wouldn’t go beg the judge.”
Beavers didn’t make any statement to Zagel asking for a light sentence and, in a rare move, declined to let people write letters asking for leniency on his behalf, which is a routine part of criminal sentencing. He is set to report to prison Dec. 2, though he has vowed to appeal.
Defense lawyers for the outspoken Chicago pol had argued for probation, citing Beavers’ decades of public service as a police officer, alderman and county commissioner.
But prosecutors seized on that same resume to argue for a 21 month prison sentence, writing in a filing last week that Beavers should have known better, because he had a “front row seat for the long and sordid history of public corruption in Chicago and Illinois.”
In announcing his sentence, Zagel noted the importance of sending a message to would-be corrupt pols. But he also said Beavers’ was not an “extraordinarily powerful” politician, and that his crimes did not directly relate to his decades in public office.
“He wasn’t selling his vote for money. He wasn’t selling his influence for money,” Zagel said. “And the fact is that this is a common, ordinary offense...that a significant number of citizens commit in this country each and every year.”
Beavers was found guilty of underreporting income on his federal tax returns between 2006 and 2008. Prosecutors say he cashed checks from his campaign accounts totalling more than $226,000, and they argued at trial that he used at least some of that money to feed his $500,000 a year slot machine habit at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.
The government also claimed Beavers used his $1,200 monthly County Board stipend on personal expenses, and, in 2006, cut himself a nearly $69,000 campaign check in order to more than double his aldermanic pension, just as he was leaving the City Council for his new seat on the County Board. None of that money was reported as income, prosecutors said during the trial.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, maintain Beavers was merely loaning himself money from his campaign accounts, with the intent of paying it back. An IRS agent testified during trial that he couldn’t find a single scrap of paper indicating Beavers would repay the money.
In a court filing leading up to Wednesday’s sentencing, lawyers for Beavers also reiterated their claim that he was only being prosecuted because he refused to be a federal informant against former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, a Beavers ally, and Democratic Cook County Commissioner John Daley, one of Beavers’ political rivals.
“From day one, when I told how they lied and how they tried to make me a stool pigeon, I put ‘em all on notice,” Beavers said after Wednesday’s hearing “Listen, I always win, man. Six months, when I win the appeal, I’m gonna make you all apologize, all right?”
Federal Judge James Zagel did not allow defense lawyers to make that argument to the jury, although federal prosecutors have acknowledged they did ask for Beavers’ cooperation.
Alex Keefe is a WBEZ political reporter. Follow him @akeefe.
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