Federal trial set to begin for outspoken Cook County Commissioner

December 3, 2012

By Alex Keefe and The Associated Press

Cook County commissioner William Beavers.

Jury selection is slated to begin Monday morning in the federal tax-evasion trial of an influential Cook County commissioner.

William Beavers is accused of diverting more than $226,000 from campaign coffers for personal use without reporting it as income on his returns. Prosecutors say the 77-year-old Democrat used nearly $69,000 to boost his city pension from his time as a Chicago alderman, and they also allege he spent a lot of the money on gambling.

Potential jurors will fill out questionnaires Monday and then face one-by-one questioning in court by the presiding judge, James Zagel.

Among the questions on the questionnaires is whether would-be jurors were ever audited by the IRS. Another question asks if they have strong feelings about gambling.

In a pretrial hearing on Friday, federal prosecutors revealed they plan to make Beavers' gambling a central part of their argument.

"We're gonna show his gambling losses," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mattew Getter, though he didn't specify how much money Beavers allegedly lost at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. "He lost a lot of money gambling," Getter added, saying Beavers went "very frequently."

Since being indicted in February, Beavers has maintained his innoncence, and says he's only being prosecuted because he refused to wear a wire on fellow Cook County Commissioner John Daley, the brother of Chicago's former mayor.

Federal Judge James Zagel has said Beavers and his lawyers won't be able to make that argument during trial. But the judge has said the defense can argue Beavers made an honest mistake when he failed to pay taxes — that is, if the colorful Cook County commissioner takes the witness stand himself.

Beavers' lawyers point to amended tax returns and bank documents to show Beavers tried to make good on his failure to pay taxes, but prosecutors say he only did that after he learned he was under investigation.

Lawyers have said a jury could be in place as soon as Tuesday. Once they're impaneled, attorneys would deliver their opening statements. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.