Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, an old-school ward boss who often bragged about his political dominance with a barnyard reference to his virility, was indicted Thursday on charges he pocketed campaign funds and a county stipend without paying federal taxes.
Beavers, 77, a former South Side alderman who never feared political repercussion in bluntly standing up for himself and his patronage operation while battling any challenge to his clout, denied the charges. He quickly claimed his prosecution was due to his refusal to be a "stool pigeon" in a broader federal investigation.
Displaying a bygone style, Beavers took on all comers who sought to infringe on his political turf. That included U.S. Rep.Jesse Jackson Jr., whose wife, Sandi, succeeded Beavers as alderman. Beavers failed twice in trying to win the seat for his daughter, Darcel, who had served as his aldermanic chief of staff.
Among the city's elder African-American politicians, Beavers eschewed political correctness as a sign of weakness. He refused to take a furlough pay cut in the past year from a cash-strapped county government, calling one commissioner who favored the cost-cutting move "an idiot and misfit." He pulled the race card when allies, such as former Cook County Board Chairman Todd Stroger, were criticized.
The indictment alleged that from 2006 to 2008, Beavers took more than $225,000 in about 100 checks written from three campaign funds he controls. He allegedly took at least part of the money for himself, using some to gamble. The indictment also alleged Beavers had a $68,000 campaign check written to a city pension fund to more than double his monthly aldermanic pension, then masked the expense on campaign records.
At the same time, the indictment alleged that during those three years, Beavers took monthly $1,200 county expense payments and used them to boost his personal income.
In each case, the indictment alleged, Beavers failed to pay federal income taxes on the campaign and expense money.
The four charges against Beavers — three counts of filing false federal income tax returns and one count of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service — together carry a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison.
In addition to getting $85,000 for his County Board salary, city records show Beavers collects about $91,000 a year for his aldermanic pension and more than $15,000 annually for his police pension.
Beavers insisted he knowingly paid all his taxes and contended the indictment was payback by federal prosecutors for his refusal to wear a wire.
"They said: 'We don't want you. We want John Daley,'" Beavers said of the former mayor's brother, who is a commissioner and chairman of the County Board's Finance Committee. "We want you to wear a wire."
Beavers said that about a week after he had rebuffed the government request to wear a wire, he was notified by letter that he was under investigation.
The longtime politician went on to profess to the Tribune his innocence in the bullish manner he's known for.
"I'll be as big news as they are," Beavers boldly proclaimed, saying his story will match the government's indictment. "You got to write they wanted me to be a stool pigeon."
Beavers said he didn't know what the government was allegedly after with Daley — nor could he remember exactly when he was approached by investigators. He said it happened in the hallway of his apartment building.
"They asked me face to face," he said of the meeting.
Beavers also made clear that he was not looking to cut a deal. "When I confess, I go to church," he said.
Beavers' legal team — attorneys Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr. — seemed to be taking a similar approach.
"My father is not the kind of man who takes people to the government and makes stool pigeons out of them, but rather stands up and fights for their rights," said the younger Adam, who said his father has known Beavers for 40 years.
Daley, who has had frequent disputes with Beavers on the County Board, said Beavers was trying to switch the "focus from him to me. He's been able to shift the focus from the indictment of him … to pull me into it."
Asked if he knew of any federal investigation of him, Daley said, "No."
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgeraldwould not comment on Beavers' allegations about Daley but cautioned reporters. "We don't comment on people not charged," he said. "We're alleging tax crimes against one person, and that's all I'll say.
"It would be entirely unfair to read (anything) into my 'non-comment,'" Fitzgerald said. "If you asked me whether or not he was indicted because he failed to wear a wire on the pope, I'd say the same thing. We don't comment on people not charged. … We indicted him because we allege he committed a tax fraud and we intend to prove it."
The Tribune reported in October 2010 that the outspoken Beavers had been the subject of federal subpoenas involving an IRS investigation.
At the time, Beavers acknowledged pocketing the county expense money to boost his income until his actions gained media attention in late 2008. He said then that he had "paid taxes" on the added income.
"If politicians choose to use their campaign funds for personal use then they, like all the citizens they serve, share the obligation to honestly report their income and pay the correct amount of taxes," Fitzgerald said.
"The indictment alleges that over a course of three years, Commissioner Beavers repeatedly used his campaign accounts for personal use and then thwarted the Internal Revenue Service by causing his campaign committees to create false records to cover it up," Fitzgerald said.
State law allows politicians who had long-standing campaign funds to be able to tap them for personal use up to the amount they contained as of June 30, 1998 — as long as they pay taxes. No rules had prohibited the conversion of the county expense funds to personal use by county commissioners.
Beavers, who represented the 7th Ward in the Chicago City Council from 1983 until he took his seat on the Cook County Board a month after his election in November 2006, always prided himself on appearing impeccably dressed.
His height, his deep Pall Mall-enhanced voice and the 21 years he served as a police officer before entering elective politics combined to help create a style that was often imposing — if not intimidating and arrogant.
As newer politicians recognized the need for serving their tax-strained constituents and for ethics reforms in a county government bloated by wasteful spending, Beavers battled back. He wistfully wished for a return to the days when patronage was a controlling force in commanding loyalty.
To tout his political power, Beavers often promoted himself as the "hog with the big nuts."
After serving as Todd Stroger's floor leader on the County Board, defending a controversial sales tax increase, Beavers has had frequent run-ins with Stroger's successor, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle pushed to roll back the sales tax hike and, in November, Beavers was the board's lone "no" vote on her county budget.
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a North Side Democrat and former County Board commissioner who repeatedly clashed with Beavers on reform efforts, had little to say about the indictment.
"It hurts everyone," he said of the latest public corruption charge filed in Chicago. "It's hard to lead without the public's trust."
Commissioner Larry Suffredin made it clear that Beavers clashed with Daley from the day Beavers joined the County Board.
Suffredin, of Evanston, said Beavers has consistently shown "disdain" for Daley and is constantly "picking fights with him."
Beavers, he added, always chafed when other commissioners advocated changing the rules for use of the expense accounts.
"He was the one who told us when we raised these issues (that) it was none of our business," Suffredin said.
Tribune reporter Jason Grotto contributed.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times