Federal prosecutors tried to paint indicted Cook County Commissioner William Beavers as a frequent gambler during opening statements at his tax evasion trial Thursday, but lawyers for the Chicago Democrat say he always intended to repay the $226,000 he took from his campaign funds for personal expenses.
Beavers, an outspoken, old school Chicago pol, remained stone-faced for most of Thursdays proceedings. He is charged with taking money from his campaign and County Board accounts and using it on personal expenses, but lying to the IRS in order to avoid paying taxes on it.
In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Cole told jurors Beavers is a "seasoned Chicago politician" who converted $226,000 from his campaign accounts to personal use between 2006 and 2008. But Cole said Beavers failed to report the money to the IRS as income.
"The defendant knew the more money that he declared on his tax returns, the more money he would have to pay in taxes," Cole said, as he worked his way through a PowerPoint presentation outlining the governments case.
Prosecutors also say Beavers cut himself a $68,000 campaign check to more than double his monthly city pension payment from his 23 years as an alderman, but didn't report that, either. And the government claims, once Beavers was elected to the County Board in 2006, he used his $1200 monthly expense stipend for personal expenses but avoided reporting that, as well. All told, Beavers didn't report $125,000 in income over those three years, Cole said.
Cold also said the government's case would lean heavily on Beavers' gambling habits. On one occasion in April 2007, prosecutors say Beavers spent an afternoon gambling at Horeshoe casino in Hammond, Ind., and left three separate times to cut himself $2000 campaign checks.
But the defense used its opening statement to argue Beavers wasn't guilty of anything, "except being the best darn commissioner he could be," said defense attorney Sam Adam Jr., the colorful lawyer who also represented former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
As he moved around the courtroom, shouting and gesturing, Adam told jurors Beavers was allowed to loan himself money from his campaign accounts because Illinois campaign finance law doesn't specifically prohibit such loans. Beavers is not charged with violating state law, but he wouldn't have to pay federal taxes on the money if he intended to pay it back, Adam said.
What's more, Adam said Beavers did pay back most of the money he took from his campaign accounts - more than $196,000 of the roughly $226,000 he took out between 2006 and 2008.
"You'd be Visa's No. 1 client if you paid back 86.6 percent!" Adam said.
Adam added that his client "worked like a dog" during his years as an alderman, and cut himself the $68,000 pension check in 2006 to boost his monthly payment because he couldn't legally do so earlier, with the intention of repaying his campaign account later. As for the County Board stipend, Adam argued he didn't pay taxes on the money because the county failed to report it on his year-end tax documents.
Beavers' has said repeatedly he will take the stand during trial, which is expected to last through next week.