Imagine being forced to sit and listen for days as a total stranger gets hauled in for a tax audit. Now, mix in every nuance of the state’s arcane campaign finance laws. And for good measure, learn that stranger’s private gambling habits, and how long it takes to drive to every one of his bank’s south side branches.
Congratulations. You could sit on the William Beavers jury.
Federal prosecutors rested their case Tuesday in what has been, at times, a mind-numbing excursion through the Cook County commissioner’s bank statements, tax forms, even computer printouts of the Player’s Card he used at Hammond’s Horseshoe Casino. The jury could get the case by day’s end on Wednesday.
It is the government’s contention that Beavers wrote hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks to himself, drawn on his three campaign funds, and never reported the money as income. He is also accused of using campaign money to beef up his aldermanic pension and under-reporting income from his Cook County expense account.
At first glance, the numbers were indisputable as prosecutors flashed images of the checks on a giant screen and showed that Beavers often commenced gambling literally minutes after they were cashed.
Internal Revenue agent Paul Ponzo conceded that he could not link a dime of the campaign money to actual gambling. And both defense attorneys and the prosecution made use of thousands of dollars in reimbursement checks Beavers wrote back to the campaign from his personal accounts.
At times, the amounts of money which Beavers had been moving around seemed staggering: over $110,000 in cash advances on his credit cards and over $250,000 in checks cashed on his personal bank account over a three year period. But Ponzo conceded that after an analysis of Beavers finances, what started as hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, had been whittled down to just $30,000 which could not be explained.
Defense attorneys said that meant the commissioner had either paid back, or could explain, more than 86 percent of the campaign funds in question.
Ponzo testified that of 100 campaign checks he analyzed, more than 90 were cashed either the day before, the day of, or the day after a Beavers gambling spree at the Horseshoe Casino.
The government’s final witness, IRS agent Nathan Sarnacki, testified that he drove between four different branches of Beavers’ bank and the Hammond Casino, to determine if the commissioner could have cashed campaign checks between intense gambling sessions time stamped by his Player’s card. In almost every case, Sarnacki said the check withdrawals were performed with time to spare.
Beavers was the longtime sartorial king of Chicago’s City Council, making the switch to the Cook County Board in 2006. His booming bass voice seasoned by decades of Pall Malls is something of a trademark, and he has insisted from the day he was charged that he would take the stand in his own defense. He promised to expose how the entire case had been brought against him because he refused the government’s request to wear a wire against fellow commissioners in a wider probe of Cook County government.
But as the defense prepares to present its case, Beavers testimony does not seem so certain. After a private conversation with defense lawyers, Judge James Zagel told spectators and attorneys that the defense case would be brief and that all should plan on closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.
Beavers faces three counts of tax evasion and one of impeding an IRS investigation. Each carries a maximum term of three years in prison.