CHICAGO – An influential Chicago Democrat who famously compared himself to a virile hog was convicted Thursday after only two hours of jury deliberations on charges of tax evasion for not declaring campaign cash he gambled away on slot machines as income.
The tough-talking, rhetorically gifted William Beavers, 78 — who once bragged about the extent of his influence in and around Chicago by describing himself as a "hog with big nuts" – kept his eyes fixed on the clerk as the verdict was read but showed no emotion. His attorney, Sam Adam Jr., flinched and bit his lip.
Beavers, whose commissioner's salary is $85,000, lost $500,000 over three years at Indiana's Horseshoe Casino, sometimes writing himself one $2,000 campaign check after another on daylong gambling binges.
The former policeman and one-time alderman was convicted of all four tax counts – one for trying to obstruct the IRS and three counts for filings false tax returns from 2006 through 2008. Each count carries a maximum three-year prison term.
Beavers slumped momentarily in his chair as jurors left the room. A dejected-looking Adam walked up to Beavers after court adjourned, shook his hand and said, "I'm sorry."
Post-verdict, Beavers regained the swagger and open defiance he had exhibited after he was charged and during the trial for television cameras in the courthouse lobby.
"I'm not backing down from nothing – from him," he said about the judge, whom he accused of treating him unfairly at trial. "There's no law against what I did."
Beavers also vowed to appeal, calling the verdict just the "first round" of his legal fight.
During closing statements earlier Thursday, prosecutor Carrie Hamilton reminded jurors that gambling with campaign funds isn't, in itself, illegal, and that's not why he was on trial. Not declaring campaign money used for personal benefit as income is illegal.
"The defendant is not on trial because he used his campaign fund as a personal slush fund," she said. "He is on trial because he used his campaign fund as a slush fund and didn't report it (as income.) ... He decided the rules shouldn't apply to him."
Adam drew objections from prosecutors during his closing statement when he suggested to jurors the government had manipulated testimony about his client.
"They are trying to bamboozle you," he boomed.
Beavers' gambling habit also provided a motive for why he needed a steady, untaxed flow of cash. Out of 100 checks he wrote to himself from his campaign coffers – worth around $225,000 – 93 were written the day before, the day of or day after he was at the casino, government evidence indicated.
Beavers took steps to conceal his use of campaign money at casinos, once falsely indicating on a check stub that money was used to print campaign signs, prosecutors said.
Beavers claimed before the trial that authorities charged him in retaliation for his refusal in 2009 to wear a wire against Commissioner John Daley, the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
Asked after Thursday's verdict whether he still believed that, Beavers said, "There's no question about it."
After his indictment in 2012, Beavers lashed out at the then-chief prosecutor for allegedly using "Gestapo-style tactics" to get him.
Beavers' lawyers also argued his was a case of no harm, no foul: That he regarded the money from his campaign as loans and paid most of it back. He only did so after learning in 2009 he was under investigation.
The charges included the accusation that Beavers also failed to declare more than $68,000 in campaign money he put in a city fund to nearly double his monthly alderman's pension from $2,900 to $6,500 a month.
He was also accused of taking a $1,200-per-month commissioner's stipend meant to cover official expenses and using it on personal items. Prosecutors said that, too, should have been reported as income.