CHICAGO – A prosecutor told jurors at an influential Chicago Democrat's tax evasion trial Thursday that he spent thousands from his campaign coffers at a casino, falsely declaring he'd spent it on campaign signs.
The accusation came during opening statements at William Beavers' trial, where a defense attorney fired back later that the 78-year-old Cook County commissioner viewed the money as loans and eventually paid back most of it back.
"He didn't violate anything – except being the best commissioner he could be," Beavers' lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., told jurors.
The focus of the evidence is on dry accounting issues, but it has drawn a spotlight because of Beavers' tough talk and bravado. He once likened the then-chief prosecutor in his tax case to a Nazi.
Holding a remote in one hand, prosecutor Sam Cole at one point displayed three separate, $2,000 checks on a courtroom screen that Beavers wrote to himself drawing $6,000 from his campaign fund on April 9, 2007.
On that day, Beavers was gambling at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind., Cole told jurors. But on an election board form later, Beavers declared the $6,000 went toward campaign expenses.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that's a lie," Cole said.
Beavers, dressed in a three-piece suit with a matching yellow tie and pocket square, sat at the defense table listening through headphones linked to a courtroom sound system.
Beavers claims authorities charged him in retaliation for his refusal in April 2009 to wear a wire against Commissioner John Daley, brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
Indicted in 2010, Beavers has pleaded not guilty to four tax counts. If convicted, the former Chicago policeman and one-time alderman faces a maximum three-year prison term on each count.
In his Thursday opening, Cole said Beavers as a seasoned politician knew full well that the money in question – since it was spent for personal use – should have been declared as income but never was.
"There's nothing wrong with gambling," Cole told jurors. "But it is personal use of campaign money ... and he has to declare it as income on his taxes. The defendant didn't do that."
Adam said of the around $225,000 in campaign fund money that prosecutors say Beavers withdrew for personal use, he has paid back or properly declared expenses on 86.6 percent of it.
"You would be Visa's No. 1 client if you paid back 86.6 percent," Adam told the 12 jurors and four alternates. "No. 1!"
The attorney went on to portray the money as loans. "And if (Beavers) understood them as loans ... he never did anything intentionally wrong," Adam said.
Cole said in his opening that the campaign coffers was "money the defendant was happy to use whenever he liked."
Beavers only began repayments in May 2009, after realizing he was being investigated. Tax evasion, prosecutors say, is still a crime even if someone belatedly pays money due and amends returns.
The commissioner, who once bragged about his influence by calling himself "a hog with big nuts," has repeatedly vowed that he will take the stand and speak directly to jurors.
"I've got to tell what these people are all about," Beavers told reporters Monday, referring to prosecutors. "What they're really all about is that they tell some tall tales. ... I gotta straighten them out."